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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Richard HARVEY (b.1953)
Anthem: All I am is Thee [4:56]
Kyrie for the Magdalene [4:02]
O be joyful [3:58]
O Mother Earth [5:04]
Recordare [6:13]
Evanescence [3:33]
Carol: Eventide [2:20]
Ye Dying Gales [5:03]
Of a Mountain [2:29]
In Paradisum [2:28]
The Calm Hours [3:09]
Amy Howarth (soprano), Tui Hirv (soprano), Nicholas Trapp (boy soprano)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Latvian Radio Choir
Sinfonietta Riga, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kaspars Putnins, Sigvards Klava, Tomasz Szymus, Richard Harvey
rec. Latvia Radio Studios Riga, Polish Radio Studios Warsaw - no other recording information supplied
ALTUS RECORDS ALU0012 [43:12]

This is the third disc in a row I have reviewed where music and music-making of no little quality is let down by presentation and documentation of depressing inadequacy.

Here, a disc of choral music by Richard Harvey comes with little more than packaging and a moody picture on the cover. Harvey's music is probably better known by ear than his name is familiar. This is because he has worked a lot in the field of music for TV and film. According to his bio in the Internet Movie Database, "Richard Harvey recently scored the music for Mark Osborne's 'The Little Prince' (2015/16) with long term collaborator and Hollywood legend Hans Zimmer. Alongside a very proactive writing output over the last few years, he is perhaps otherwise best known for his work on The Da Vinci Code (2006), Eichmann (2007), Interstellar (2014), Les deux mondes (2007), Arabian Nights (2000). He is a frequent collaborator with Hans Zimmer and won a British Academy Award for his collaborative effort with Elvis Costello on Alan Bleasdale's G.B.H. (1991)."

Collectors might also have spotted his name as the skilled soloist on a series of discs of baroque recorder concerti. My favourite Harvey work remains the two-brass pieces he wrote that featured on an old ASV disc. It was variously titled but I remember it as "Brass at la Sauve-Majeure". As well as directing that disc, Harvey wrote L'Homme armé and La Citadelle which still sound absolutely stunning in the thrillingly rich acoustic of the abbey of Sauve-Majeure.

So it was with considerable expectation that I approached this disc. The music is as one would expect of a composer well-versed in film. In no sense do I mean this disparagingly to say it is skilfully written, easily attractive and strong on moody atmosphere. The performances are uniformly good and the resonant recordings make the most of the beguilingly lush and rich harmonies. But that is about as good as it gets. The disc comes with no texts at all. This is a significant problem because the downside of the lush recording style—and possibly a consequence of using a choir for whom English is not their first language—the words sung remain stubbornly unintelligible. About the only information the liner notes provide is the sources of the texts where the words have not been written by Harvey himself. But having sought the texts in vain on Harvey's own site I gave up. As an aside: Harvey's own site is as unforthcoming about this disc as the disc itself. It even manages to give the timing as two minutes shorter than it actually is.

If the producer of the disc makes no effort to help the listener gain any wider comprehension of the music they are listening to then frankly I do not see why I should have to try too hard to achieve an understanding. Stripped of text and context—there are no dates of composition let alone why any piece might have been written—all that remains is a mellifluous flow of golden choral tone. In isolation it is rather lovely if somewhat unvaried but very much in the style of Eric Whitacre out of John Rutter. Again, that is not a statement that carries any implied criticism, just one that is necessary in the splendid isolation in which this music is presented.

The liner lists four conductors without saying who conducted what—because it really did not matter I assume. The bulk of the orchestral accompaniments are by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra who play perfectly well given the pretty straightforward and undemanding nature of their parts. Not that it is clear who plays what, but I assume by a process of elimination that it is the Sinfonietta Riga who accompany Harvey's best-known choral work. This is the Kyrie for the Magdalene [sorry: no text and cannot hear the words so you will have to guess what this is about] that was part of the soundtrack for the Da Vinci Code. Again this work is strong on shadowy melancholy and mood without having any real sense of a "greater" meaning beyond the requirements of a film score. Harvey is good at using choral writing tricks of closely written high soloists and sepulchral bass lines. Always effective but hardly original.

Elsewhere, Ye Dying Gales [sorry again: no text for this (written by Harvey) so no idea what they are singing about] is an atmospheric study in clashing close vocal harmonies. In Paradisum is quite happy to doff a cap of homage to Fauré. The eleven tracks run to just over forty minutes, so this is not anything like good value on that score either. There is no apparent structure to this programme. Put your CD player onto random play and you will get as satisfying a sequence of music, whatever the order. My frustration is that Harvey is a very skilled composer, and presented differently, with more diversity, this could have been a very enjoyable disc. As it is, it feels like an easy-listening, middle-of-the-road, ask-no-questions, turn-the-lights-down-and-fall-asleep high-quality background music compilation.

Nick Barnard


 

 



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