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Cracked Voices, a song cycle to words by Graham Palmer (2018)
Miles Horner (baritone), Donna Lennard (soprano), Sue Pettitt (clarinet, bass clarinet), Ralph Woodward (piano and narration)
rec. Alpheton New Maltings, UK, 2018
Texts available online
Private Release [72:01]

Composer Jenni Pinnock studied at Kingston University and Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London. She has here set the words of Graham Palmer in the form of a twelve-poem song cycle that employs linking narration - a geographical project focusing on the borderlands between the counties of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. The poems explore the lives of ordinary people down the ages, delving into Celtic mysticism, German POWs celebrating Hitler’s birthday at a nearby English camp, a migrant woman giving birth on the highway, to resonant evocations of a meeting between a local man and Charles Dickens. There is even a poem relating to pianist Joyce Hatto, who lived in nearby Royston.

The project is specific as to place but roams over time, and so begins with a poem called Those who wait, evoking the discovery of a Roman offering of a statuette to the Goddess Senuna, rediscovered in 2002. Sometimes the poems are set to a rather folkloric effect, such as in The Ballad of Alice Stokes, where the lilting melody eventually gives way to blanched piano chords and a wordless vocal line. In Composite Man both singers, baritone Miles Horner and soprano Donna Lennard, sing their own independent lines in another traditionally-inspired setting that keeps the singers away from the comforts of unison. Throughout these settings accompaniment comes not merely from the piano of Ralph Woodward, who also doubles as the narrator, but also from Sue Pettitt, who plays clarinet and bass clarinet and brings colour and character to her solo or obbligato roles. The music embraces simplicity and drama as well as declamatory moments. It can open with distant melisma and musing reflection, or skittishly evoke birdsong. Oscillating between full-fat folk, the cycle takes in the necessarily sombre – Jesus from Hut 7, for example – which relates to an incident at the POW camp but also involves quasi-Rachmaninovian piano chords. The whole cycle ends affirmatively.

The forgotten characters reclaimed from history are fit subjects for a ‘local’ project such as this. Jenni Pinnock’s settings are apt and seldom predictable, fresh-faced when required, more withdrawn and ambiguous when the poetry calls for greater shades of meaning. The performances are loyally supportive and convey both text and music with understanding. My review copy came with a most attractive brochure about the project with text and illustrations that explore in greater detail the characters that populate this song cycle.

Jonathan Woolf

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