Richard BLACKFORD (b. 1954)
Mirror of Perfection (1996)1 [36.28]
A Westminster Te Deum (2010)2 [9.52]
On anotherís sorrow (2005)3 [5.14]
I know that my Redeemer liveth (2007)4 [3.22]
From The Song of Songs (1985)5 [3.55]
A lullaby of the Nativity (2006)6 [3.57]
I will sing unto the Lord (2009)7 [3.53]
1Ying Huang (soprano), Bo Skovhus (baritone); 5Olivia Robinson (soprano), 2-4, 6, 7BBC Singers, 2, 5-7Iain Farrington (organ), 2-7David Hill (cond)
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Ballard Lane Preparatory School Choir
Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Richard Blackford
1rec. Winter Gardens, Bournemouth, 16-18 August and 25-27 August 1997 2-7rec. St Paulís Church, Knightsbridge, London, 22 February 2012
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6205 [66.41]
 

 
This issue combines a reissue of the Sony recording (SK60285) of Mirror of Perfection with some new recordings of various choral anthems by Richard Blackford, but it seems that something has gone bizarrely wrong with the booklet presentation. It looks as though a couple of pages have been omitted between pages 11 and 12, with the result that the text and translation of the Te Deum is missing together with any information on the works other than Mirror of Perfection. It is obvious that the choral anthems, scored for different forces and in different styles, were written at different times, but it was only after considerable research on the internet that I was able to confirm this and supply the dates given in this review. [see footnote]
 
Mirror of Perfection is a response to texts by St Francis of Assisi, some of which (notably Canticle of Love III) are surprisingly erotic in content. The scoring, for string orchestra plus horns and timpani, is sometimes reminiscent of Bliss in his Pastoral, and the richly expressive music sometimes reminds one of Bliss as well. The main problem with the work arises from the use of Italian texts - except oddly for the Canticle of the birds, which uses as French translation of a Latin original. This keeps the meaning of the text at one remove from the listener and produces at times what seems like a rather mechanical response to the words, almost like Carl Orff. The best musical passages come in the extended orchestral interlude during the Canticle of the birds and the superlatively cumulative meditation which forms the final Canticle of Peace. The main recurring theme of the Canticle of the Furnace brings an unconscious echo of the third of Mahlerís Wayfarer Songs. There are many touching moments throughout, and Ying Huang and Bo Skovhus sing with passion and feeling, but at the end one is left feeling warmed but slightly unsatisfied.
 
The choral anthems begin with the Westminster Te Deum and end with the Psalm setting I will sing unto the Lord, the two most recent works here, both scored for chorus with rumbustious organ parts that at times evoke the spirit of Walton. The short unaccompanied anthems On anotherís sorrow (to a text by William Blake) and I know that my Redeemer liveth are both little gems, but the setting of texts from A song of songs does not match the beautiful treatment of similar words by Jonathan Dove which I reviewed earlier this year (review). The setting of A lullaby of the Nativity, on the other hand, is marvellous. Holst famously set the same text, and Richard Blackford here correctly echoes his rhythmic freedom in the treatment of the anonymous fifteenth century words Ė but his addition of an organ accompaniment and the way he rises to the words ďAngels bright they sang that nightĒ are something else again. This is a piece that deserves to be performed often.
 
The performances throughout are excellent, and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta provide a rich accompaniment in Mirror of Perfection. The childrenís choir sound a bit recessed in the sound picture, but otherwise the sound is fine; and the later recordings by the BBC Singers have plenty of character and atmosphere.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey
 
Sung with passion yet at the end one is left feeling warmed but slightly unsatisfied.

See also review by John Quinn

Footnote

Nimbus were approached about the booklet. They replied that the decision not to include the text of the Te Deum was taken by Richard Blackford who thought it was unnecessary. Also Richard Blackford felt he did not have any thing additional to say or point out about the anthems.

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