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Anthony RITCHIE (b.1960)
Symphony No.4 'Stations', Op.171 [42:20]
Jenny Wollerman (soprano)
Christchurch Symphony Orchestra/Tom Woods
rec. based on live performance at Wigram Airforce Museum, Christchurch, NZ,
February 2014. DDD.
Texts included ATOLL ACD314 [42:20]
None of the music on the Atoll label that has come my way so far has had particular
reference to its New Zealand provenance, so I’m pleased to see them furthering
the music of a Kiwi composer.
As with so many contemporary works, I have had to let this music grow on me.
Nick Barnard reviewed
this recording some time ago, having had the advantage of reviewing other
works by Anthony Ritchie, whereas I was a neophyte. I haven’t delayed quite
as much as might appear: I received the CD in a later batch. Appropriately
enough, I finally put my thoughts together on the final day of the dramatic
2015 first Test Match between England and New Zealand.
First impressions that this was a powerful symphony, but one which I could not
quite get a handle on, grew into a feeling that this is music to which I shall
be returning. In many respects it’s comparable with Britten’s War Requiem,
though not on the same level. After some very intense sections, often as sorrowful
as Górecki’s symphony of that name, the work ends with celebratory music leading
to stillness and quiet. Without going quite as far as Nick Barnard, who made
this a Recording of the Month, I shall also be investigating some of Ritchie’s
other music, on Atoll and other labels.
Whereas Britten commemorated the pity of war through the text of the Latin Requiem
and the poetry of Wilfred Owen, Ritchie commemorates the sufferings of the inhabitants
of Christchurch, New Zealand, after the earthquake of 2010/2011, using Lew Summers’
modernistic Stations of the Cross sculpted for the ruined cathedral and the
poetry of Bernadette Hall, based on those Stations and entitled The Way of
the Cross. Almost half of the sections of the work are purely orchestral,
though linked to the poems, and the remainder are sung, albeit with slightly
shortened versions of the texts or only one line of the poem in some cases.
Nick Barnard has included such a detailed analysis of the music and performance
that it would be quite superfluous of me to add anything, so I have streamlined
this review and cut out many of my notes. Let me simply say that there are,
of course, no benchmarks for this first recording, but I can’t imagine anything
better. Like Nick Barnard I found it hard to discern some of the words – with
Jenny Wollerman the old dispute between music and poetry comes down on the side
of the music – but we both appreciated the beauty of her singing and the words
are all in the booklet. I’ve already referred to Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful
Songs and Wollerman’s voice reminded me not a little of Dawn Upshaw in most
reviewers’ preferred recording of that work.
The Atoll recording is ‘based on’ a live performance but we are not told the
exact details. There is no applause or perceptible audience noise, so I assume
that it was made either at the final rehearsal or very soon after the performance.
Whatever the case, the recording is very good: there is a wide dynamic range
but not such that it’s hard to set a comfortable volume level. One small matter
where I would take issue with Nick Barnard is that whereas he would prefer applause
rather than have the music float off into a void I thought the floating off,
like the end of Holst’s Planets, appropriate.
The booklet refers to Ritchie’s cross-references to the music of Palestrina
and Bach; I did notice them, for example the extended reference to Bach in Station
12, but I can’t say that I found them particularly illuminating.
42 minutes is, on the face of it, very poor value but it’s difficult to imagine
what else might have been included. For once I set aside my tight-fisted North
of England origins and advise forgetting about value for money: the value lies
in the quality of the music and the performance, and both are very much worth
your attention. If you’re not sure, sample the music from Qobuz
– subscribers can stream the whole work: don’t make an instant judgment based
on one hearing – but you won’t find the booklet there. For that you need the
CD, which can be obtained at an attractive price by clicking the MusicWeb-International
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