Will TODD (b. 1970)
The Lord is My Shepherd (2009) [4:48]
Stay With Me, Lord (2008) [7:44]
The Call of Wisdom (2012) [5:12]
Man Unkind (1996) [5:09]
My Lord Has Come [3:25]
That We May Love Again (2009) [6:21]
Vidi Speciosam [7:03]
Among Angels (2006) [14:37]
You Have Seen the House Built (2008) [5:42]
I Sing Because… (2012) [6:39]
English Chamber Orchestra/Nigel Short
recording details not given
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD298 [66:46]
This collection opens with a setting of Psalm 23 which some will find an appropriate response to the comforting text and others will find sweet and indulgent. I think it’s fair to say that music like this, and word setting like this, with its rich scoring, added-note diatonic harmony and sudden enharmonic modulations, couldn’t have been written without the liberating influence of John Rutter over the last thirty years; this very piece might have been written by him. Much the same can be said about Stay With Me, Lord, where the composer skilfully exploits unison singing, phrase repetition, and rich scoring for strings, including short solos from section leaders. The Call of Wisdom was commissioned to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It is accompanied by organ alone, though no organist is named. There are a couple of particularly fruity cadences just before the end. Man Unkind, an extract from an oratorio entitled St Cuthbert, features a certain amount of chromatic harmony, presumably to evoke the mystic elements in the text. My Lord Has Come is a really lovely unaccompanied carol that was included in the new volume of Carols for Choirs (OUP, 2010). That We May Love Again is, like the first piece on the disc, an extract from Todd’s Te Deum.
The Song of Songs has inspired many composers, and here, in the unaccompanied Vidi Speciosam, the Latin text encourages the composer to venture further into chromatic territory. The opening passage is extremely effective, with a particularly winning way of working its way to a bare fifth or octave via a series of highly surprising chromatic chords. This works well enough to make the listener wish the composer would stretch his tonal wings further and more often, especially since the remainder of the work returns to diatonic dissonance reminiscent of Morten Lauridsen, but without, to my ears at least, that composer’s individuality of voice. I rather fear that this is my reaction to the collection as a whole.
The longest work on the disc is Among Angels, for choir and harp, composed for The Sixteen and first performed by them in Salzburg in 2006. The work was composed to a commission from the Genesis Foundation, and the booklet devotes a page to the composer’s introduction to this foundation and his gratitude to them for their support. A quick internet search establishes that this charity, created in 2001 by American banker John Studzinski - personally acknowledged in Will Todd’s note - “supports and nurtures young and emerging artists” in “music, theatre, dance and the visual arts”. The words of Among Angels - there aren’t many of them - are by Ben Dunwell, and seem to be angel-related. The music contains some truly ravishing noises, plus a few frankly clunky key changes and cadences. The composer is clearly in sympathy with the sentiments expressed, but I find them, slim though they are, insufferable. The first five minutes of the work comprise a setting of the words “Fear not you the dark,/We carry you on soft wide wings.”
The organ-accompanied You Have Seen the House Built is the most dissonant work in the collection, a setting of words by T. S. Eliot more or less appropriate for a work celebrating the 900th anniversary of Chichester Cathedral. The words hardly call for musical setting, and Todd’s music doesn’t really fuse with them in any real sense. The work is austere and overwrought, and the dissonances, including one particularly dramatic one in the closing cadence, seem pasted in for effect. The composer seems much more at ease in the final piece, I Sing Because… for choir and jazz trio. This lovely, relaxed music draws you in and gives real pleasure, albeit with barely a trace of the melancholy that is surely present in the words.
The composer writes his own introduction to each piece in the booklet, and sung texts are provided. The disc is sumptuously recorded and, as you might expect from Tenebrae, sumptuously sung. The English Chamber Orchestra, and the individual players when the piece requires it, are excellent, though they are given little opportunity to shine. The whole is impeccably conducted by Nigel Short.
I perceive much, though not all, of this music as cloyingly sweet, but it is superbly done here, and if you like that kind of thing, this is without a doubt the kind of thing you’ll like.
A beautifully performed selection of Will Todd’s choral music, for the most part sweet and undemanding.