One of the finest I have heard
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Judith BINGHAM (b. 1952)
Glass Beatitude (2014) [9:05]
Annunciation IV – Meine Seel’ Erhebt drn Herren (2012) [3:44]
Angel Fragments (2012/13) [8:23]
Hadrian’s Dream (1999/2016) [5:00]
The Three Angels (2015) [8:20]
Missa Brevis ‘Videntes Stellam’ (2014) [6:37]
The Linnaeus Garden (2016) [12:25]
Altaravla (20130 [15:34]
The Everlasting Crown (2010) [31:51]
Jacquet’s Ghost (2012) [7:39]
Tableaux Vivants (2013) [14:17]
Stephen Farr (organ & harpsichord)
Jeremy Cole (organ: Garden)
rec. October 2016, St Edmundsbury Cathedral; August 2011, St Albans Cathedral (Crown); April 2012, Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge (Ghost), June 2016, St George’s Church, Chesterton (Tableaux). RESONUS CLASSICS RES10191 [69:13 + 53:49]
Judith Bingham’s organ music has been given attention on the Naxos label before (review), but this Resonus release boasts all world première recordings, so fans need have no fears about duplicating works. Readers looking for some fascinating background information can have a look at an interview with Judith from 2002, talking to Christopher Thomas.
Bingham’s organ music has a particularly English quality to my ears, and none the worse for that. Glass Beatitude was written to mark the restoration of an organ in St Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Glasgow, and the title refers to the church’s stained-glass window. With excursions to describe the changeable Scottish weather, this is a largely reflective and pastoral piece, and a nicely approachable way to start this collection. Annunciation IV alludes to a Bach chorale setting and is described in Bingham’s own words as “intimate, mesmeric, secretive…”
Angel Fragments is a set of variations on the plainsong hymn ‘Thomas Victor’ and is filled with medieval imagery, the pungent harmonies also broken by disturbing interjections that refer to the statues at Vezalay in France. Darker moments finally give way to an apotheosis, with the soul being transported to heaven by angels. Hadrian’s Dream has been composed especially for this recording, paraphrasing a movement from Otherworld for chorus and orchestra, the words from the original having come from the Emperor Hadrian. This is a strangely abstract piece to begin with though not in an angular atonal fashion, the music wanders through unusual pathways before being grounded in and guided to a conclusion over a repeating bass.
The Three Angels depicts Lucifer, Michael and Gabriel, using chorale melodies to build brief but impressive structures. The first two are very much music ‘in high relief’ and rather stern portrayals that have their own monumentally sculptural qualities, the final Gabriel having a more ethereal quality. The two organ solos from Missa Brevis ‘Videntes Stellam’ have functional qualities as a background to spoken text and a closing voluntary, but they work well enough as stand-alone pieces. The Linnaeus Garden is a ‘botanical fantasy’ for organ duet, its structure reflecting formal gardens and Linnaeus’s own orderly classifications for plant life. Stephen Farr’s notes refer to “music that is frequently expressive of the infinite variety and sensual richness of the natural world,” the added richness of the duet scoring perfect for such “lavish descriptions of flora and fauna, including Linnaeus’s pet raccoon, Sjüpp.” CD 1 concludes with Altartavla, inspired by Biblical scenes on the Renaissance alter of Västerás Cathedral in Sweden. The music also responds to contemporary poetry that can be read during performance, though this is not the case here. Composed in five continuously played movements, this is an imposing structure that transforms a main theme, its continuity running as a thread throughout and with some truly magical moments towards a tremendous and darkly impressive finale.
CD 2 is dominated by The Everlasting Crown, a work inspired by precious gemstones and “how history seems to madly swirl around them, while they themselves do not deteriorate.” The stones referred to include King Edward’s Sapphire, the Orlov Diamond and the Russian Spinel; the titles brought together to form a sort of dance suite with each movement not only expressing some character of the stone and its history, but also springing from a different era in music. Sparkling facets are certainly in evidence, as well as a sense of weighty ritual and ceremony in some movements, finishing with The Peacock Throne, a spectacle to equal the opening coronation scene overture The Crown.
Jacquet’s Ghost can be seen as another suite, this time drawing its inspiration from the French Baroque and in particular the harpsichord prelude non musuré, in which the player has almost as much creative input as the composer, who leaves rhythmic and other details to the discretion of the performer. This music is witty and translucent, drawing on and playing with 17th century keyboard techniques to create something that teases the ear in endlessly fascinating ways. The final piece, Tableaux Vivants is a harpsichord solo that emerges almost as the ghost’s reply to the previous piece, starting out as a Baroque fantasy with melancholy descending harmonies. These are developed and expanded into a substantial work that keeps its little trills and ornaments as a reminder of its antique character, a quality that becomes at times subsumed by Bingham’s own distinctive idiom, the identity of the harpsichord pulling us in two directions at once – out of Baroque formality into the world of today in which Couperin can be tortured on the rack of modernity and still come up smiling.
Superbly performed and recorded on a collection of admirable instruments, specifications of which are all given in the booklet, this is an invaluable set of fine works by a composer of whose music we should all be keenly aware.