Written in 1989, And All The Trumpets Sounded is a powerful cantata
that reflects on judgement and war in a way both humane and
moving. Ronald Corp takes texts by Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke,
C.H. Sorley and Wilfred Owen, all four poets killed during the
First World War, and adds a long setting of Walt Whitman’s
Vigil Strange, interspersing them with the Dies irae,
Tuba mirum, Rex tremendae, Lacrimosa and Pie Jesu. Corp acknowledges
that the work was intended as a companion for Vaughan Williams’
Dona nobis pacem and he also cites Britten’s War
Requiem and its exploration of the ‘pity of war’.
Instead, however, Corp’s cantata is suffused with an ultimate
pessimism, and a realisation ‘contrary to my conscious
belief’ that war endures and that there is no end of it.
The terse unyielding Dies irae activates a work of powerful
emotion. There are however lovely moments. One of the most beautiful
is surely Corp’s setting of Brooke’s The Dead
(Blow out, you bugles) - turbulent, passionate and expressive.
There are strong hints of Finzi in the word setting of Sorley’s
Such, such is death. Just as Owen’s Asleep
(Under his helmet) suggests some reprieve, back comes the Dies
irae onslaught - pessimistic, remorseless, and pitiless.
Michael Hurd’s The Shepherd’s Calendar (1975)
charts a very different course and sets John Clare’s 1827
poem, though it also includes as part of the literary fabric
- most movingly - the poem O love is so deceiving! This
Choral Symphony, which is itself, in effect, a cantata, moves
through the months with deft orchestration, pictorial wit, pastoral
charm and, in places, a refulgent Finzian quality. It’s
a delightful work, though one not wholly untroubled by doubt
and loss, with a giocoso spirit of freedom and adept word setting,
fresh scene depiction and a lovely melancholy that all prove
captivating. Its heart is the setting of Clare’s poem,
a compressed Largo that manages, by virtue of the deftest
of means - wind pointing, string gauze - to imbue the text with
a genuine poignancy. The Harvest verve of the final movement
proves culminatory and affecting in equal measure. Not the least
of Hurd’s gifts, as demonstrated here, is the practical
but attentive choral writing which ensures both clarity and
warmth. So, too, one appreciates his refined attention to rhythm
The two baritone soloists, Mark Stone in the Corp and Roderick
Williams in the Hurd, are both excellent interpreters of song,
and they respond to the texts with imagination and insight.
Praise, too, for the choral and orchestral forces, and Corp’s
direction. These contrasting works, both warlike and pastoral
are heard here in premiere recordings. They make for abrupt
but affecting programming.