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Patrick HAWES (b. 1958)
Revelation (2016) [25:58]
Beatitudes (2016) [21:40]
The Word (2016) [3:09]
Peace Beyond Thought (2016) [1:51]
Let Us Love (2016) [3:22]
The Lord’s Prayer (from The Edenham Eucharist) (2016) [1:21]
Be Still (2016) [2:12]
Quanta Qualia (2014) [4:33]
The Elora Singers/Noel Edison
Leslie De’Ath (piano)
John Johnson (alto saxophone)
rec. 1-2 August 2016, St Joseph’s Church, Fergus, Ontario, Canada
Texts included
NAXOS 8.573720 [64:06]

Some time ago I reviewed a disc devoted to the choral music of Patrick Hawes. On that occasion there was just one piece: his Lazarus Requiem (2008). This time we have a disc of shorter pieces. One link with the previous disc is provided by the composer’s brother, Andrew Hawes, an Anglican priest. He has provided the words for Peace Beyond Thought, Let Us Love, and Quanta Qualia. In addition The Edenham Eucharist is a communion setting written for the group of parishes to which Andrew Hawes ministers.

The two principal works on this present disc received their first performances from The Elora Singers and Noel Edison in a concert given as part of the Elora Festival 2016. That concert took place on 21 July and a few days later the artists returned to the same church to make these recordings. With the exception of Quanta Qualia none of the pieces on this programme has been recorded before.

Revelation is cast in nine short movements, each lasting two or three minutes. Each movement is a setting of an individual verse from the Book of Revelation for a cappella choir – usually double choir, in fact. The very powerful imagery contained in the Book of Revelation has often inspired dramatic, even apocalyptic music but here Patrick Hawes adopts a different approach. For the most part his music contemplates the Revelation of St John in thoughtful, prayerful fashion. Thus, the opening ‘Prologue’ is calm and mellifluous. There’s a degree more urgency in the next movement, ‘Coming with the Clouds’ but even so the music is not yet dramatic, though there’s more evidence of drama and dissonance in the following ‘From the Throne’. I was interested in Hawes’ approach to ‘Worthy is the Lamb’. There’s none of the Handelian grandeur that one encounters when the same words are set in Messiah; rather, we are told in the notes, Hawes intention is to draw the listener into “the deep pain of looking upon ‘the lamb who was slain.’” I have to say that the concept of “pain” doesn’t come across all that strongly; this is essentially reflective music – or so it seems to me. A later movement, ‘Fallen is Babylon the Great’ might seem to invite highly dramatic music but instead the line that Hawes takes is to suggest regret for the fate of Babylon, an approach that his setting justifies. ‘Hallelujah (The Marriage of the Lamb)’ is a celebratory movement with choral fanfares punctuating the melodic lines. Though the performance of The Elora Singers in the work as a whole is beyond reproach I did wonder whether in this movement their singing was a little too smooth and cultured: some earthier rejoicing would not have come amiss. The closing two movements, ‘I saw a New Heaven’ and ‘Epilogue: The Alpha and the Omega’, convey a sense of wonder. Furthermore, in the second of those movements Hawes seems to convey the sense of accomplishment or completion.

This is an interesting approach to the Book of Revelation. It’s not quite what I had expected but it is a very valid concept. The music is tonal and highly accessible; it seems to me that Hawes had deliberately sought to set these texts to beautiful, contemplative and largely reassuring music.

Beatitudes is cast in eight short movements and this time the choir has piano accompaniment. As I read back through my listening notes I see a common theme. Several times I’ve noted down observations to the effect that that an individual movement is beautiful and melodious, the harmonies warm and full and the tempo slow. A potential pitfall with setting The Beatitudes is that the text is a series of sayings, all following a similar structure and all offering reassurance. There can be a danger, therefore, of sameness and I don’t think that Patrick Hawes has avoided this trap. For instance, it’s not until the fifth Beatitude, ‘The Merciful’ that the music is lively and energetic; here the piano part is also more emphatic than elsewhere in the score. Actually, that’s the only movement that offers strongly rhythmical music. We’re told in the notes that the final movement, ‘Those who are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake’ refers to musical fragments from previous movements. I’m afraid I’m tempted to ask: who would know? Though the music is very appealing in its own right my overriding impression was one of a certain sameness. There’s insufficient variety of tempo or texture in the score. Had there been some more lively music in the work or perhaps some passages for solo voices that would have made a difference. I also think that Beatitudes would make more of an impression as part of a mixed programme of music by several composers. Here it suffers somewhat because it is part of a programme which contains a good deal of music in a similar vein.

Perhaps that’s why Quanta Qualia makes a good impression for here we have the mellow sound of an alto saxophone enriching the texture, which it does to fine effect. In the second half of the piece there’s also a high-soaring solo soprano line. This is excellently sung by Julia Morson, a member of the choir. The textural variety in this piece is welcome.

The other short pieces include The Word which is an a cappella setting of the opening words of St John’s Gospel (‘In the beginning was the Word’). Most of the piece is, as the annotator says, “mystical and subdued”. Peace Beyond Thought is a lovely composition, again unaccompanied, which features some effective, rarefied harmonies.

If you like beautiful, mellifluous and melodious music then this programme will be very much to your taste. I like that style of music too but as I listened I felt I wanted more. In particular I listened in vain for an element of grit, at least some of the time. The trouble with this programme is that there’s too much music that is stylistically rather similar.

There need be no reservations whatsoever about the performances. I’ve heard several discs by Noel Edison and his fine choir of professional singers – incidentally, The Elora Singers used to sing under the name of the Elora Festival Singers. In the past I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of this ensemble’s singing. This latest disc is fully up to their usual excellent standards and I imagine that Patrick Hawes must be thrilled at this expert advocacy for his music. The choir has been well recorded in a sympathetic acoustic. There are useful notes about the music by Andy Berry.

There’s finely crafted, sincere music on this disc. You’ll get the most out of it if you don’t listen to it as a continuous sequence.

John Quinn

 




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