Richard BLACKFORD (b. 1954)
Mirror of Perfection (1996) [36:28]
A Westminster Te Deum (2010)* [9:52]
On Another’s Sorrow (2005)* [5:14]
I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (2006)* [3:22]
From The Song of Songs* [3:55]
A Lullaby of the Nativity* [3:57]
I Will Sing To The Lord (2009)* [3:53]
Ying Huang (soprano); Bo Skovhus (baritone)
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus; Ballard Lane Preparatory School Choir
Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Richard Blackford
Olivia Robinson (soprano); Iain Farrington (organ)
BBC Singers/David Hill*
rec. 16-18 June, 25-27 August 1997, Winter Gardens, Bournemouth; *22 February 2012, St, Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge. DDD
Original texts and English translations (Mirror); English texts (anthems) included.
On 11 September 2011 a choral work by Richard Blackford, entitled Not in Our Time, received its première in Cheltenham. The work was commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus to mark their centenary and in it Blackford commemorated the 9/11 attacks on the USA. Though that performance took place only a few miles from my home I missed it. However, my colleague, Roger Jones, reviewed it for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard. I remembered that he was impressed so I was glad to have this opportunity to review this disc, which contains an earlier choral/orchestral work by Blackford as well as some of his smaller-scale choral pieces.
It will be noticed that the recording of Mirror of Perfection was set down as long ago as 1997. I may be wrong but I believe that this is a reissue of a recording that previously appeared on the Sony Classical label (SK60285) (then on Quartz, the same stable that also reissued Mirror of Perfection as well as an ambitious Blackford work entitled Voices of Exile. Ed.). The performances of the six choral anthems are new, however.
Besides writing a good deal of concert music Richard Blackford has enjoyed a very successful career composing music for the theatre and for films and TV. If I say that, from listening to the music on this disc, I’m not surprised at his success in that field I don’t mean that in any way disrespectfully. On the evidence of this CD Blackford’s music is technically accomplished, tuneful, very accessible and makes an immediate impression on the listener: all these are qualities which surely any composer needs if they’re to write effectively for the stage or the screen.
Mirror of Perfection is the title of a biography of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), written by one of his companions, Brother Leo of Assisi, shortly after the saint’s death. It is a fitting title for Blackford’s piece because the texts selected by the composer are seven poems by St. Francis. These are sung in the original Italian with the exception of the fifth poem, ‘Canticle of the Birds’, for which a nineteenth-century French translation is used. The work is for soprano and baritone soloists, children’s choir, SATB chorus and an orchestra which I believe consists of three horns, strings, percussion and harp. The music is mainly lyrical, though the third movement, ‘Canticle of the Furnace’ is much more vigorous both in tempo and tone. The work is unfailingly attractive and it seems to me that Blackford’s music fits the words very well.
The two soloists on this recording are excellent. Bo Skovhus needs no introduction. He sings very well indeed; his warm, well focused baritone consistently falls pleasingly on the ear and I particularly enjoyed his work in the impressive, lyrical opening movement, ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ and in the disarmingly delicate ‘Canticle of the Birds.’ I can’t recall hearing the Chinese soprano, Ying Huang previously. She makes a strong impression. Much of Blackford’s writing for the soprano soloist suits a Puccinian-style singer and Ying Huang’s voice is well suited to the task. She offers some vivid, passionate singing in the fourth movement, ‘Canticle of Love II’.
I sense from their good and committed singing that the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus enjoyed this assignment; I wonder if it prompted them subsequently to offer the commission which became Not in Our Time. It seems to me that Blackford writes well for voices and the chorus parts sound rewarding. The children are involved in the fifth and seventh movements and they do well, singing with fresh, clear tone and in a most appealing way. The orchestral writing is skilful, colouring the score very nicely even though Blackford has been quite restrained in terms of the forces employed. In short, this is a very pleasing work which I can imagine would appeal to other choirs.
I wish I could give some information about the choral anthems but though most of the texts are provided there’s not a word about these pieces in the booklet, not even the dates of composition. That’s a serious omission in my book. I’ve been able to glean just a few details, mainly some dates of composition, from the website of Chester Novello, who publish Blackford’s music (and the composer’s own website). However, I think Nimbus could and should have provided better documentation, especially since these anthems are likely to be new to many people.
I wonder if the Westminster Te Deum was composed for a particular occasion: it has (optional?) parts for three trumpets and three trombones as well as organ, though the brass instruments are absent from this performance. The Latin setting, for which no text or translation is supplied, is mainly forthright and festive in spirit, although there’s an extended central section which is slower and more lyrical. I’ve heard On Another’s Sorrow before. It was among a collection of pieces commissioned by the Vasari Singers to mark their 25th anniversary, which were included in their album Anthems for the 21st Century (review). This, it seems to me, is the most harmonically adventurous of the anthems and its melodic lines are quite angular. From The Song of Songs is for solo soprano and organ. The soloist’s music is eager and sensuous and Olivia Robinson makes a very good job of it. It’s a brave decision to use the same text that Handel set so memorably in Messiah. Richard Blackford sets I Know That My Redeemer Liveth for a cappella choir and puts the celebrated words in a fresh light. I can imagine A Lullaby of the Nativity becoming very popular because this mainly gentle piece for choir and organ is very pleasing.

The performances of these anthems by the BBC Singers are as expert as you would expect from this ensemble and Iain Farrington’s organ accompaniments are excellent.
As I indicated earlier the music on this disc is accomplished, accessible and makes an immediate impression on the listener. I enjoyed it and the performances are certainly convincing.
John Quinn
Click here to read Roger Jones interviewing Richard Blackford for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard.
Accomplished, accessible choral music that makes an immediate impression on the listener.