Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

WILL TODD (b. 1970) Brunel Suite for orchestra (1994) Midwinter for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra (1992) * Saxophone Concerto ** (1991)  ** Ben Waghorn (tenor sax) * Jennifer Maybee (sop) * Paul Robinson (bar) The Brunel Ensemble/Christopher Austin   rec Bristol, 1994. NIMBUS IKB1 [72.51]

Available for £10.00
cheque payable to "Will Todd", Tyalgum Press,1 Albert St, Western Hill, Durham, Co. Durham DH1 4RL ( 0191 383 2307

The composer, Will Todd was born in Durham, England in 1970. It was during the years 1988-1993 (while a student at Bristol University) that he began to rise to some musical prominence. The Bristol connection is very strong in this major anthology of his music. His opera Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1991) charts the life and torments of the Victorian engineer. The opera was written for the 150th anniversary of Brunel's ship SS Great Britain is now a museum in Bristol docklands. The Brunel Ensemble are a Bristol-based orchestra. The recordings were made in Bristol and Bristol-based composer Eric Wetherell is the producer of the concerto recording.

Don't be fooled. These are ambitious works for or with full orchestra. The Brunel Ensemble is a large grouping founded to perform Will Todd's opera Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It has continued and has Malcolm Williamson as its President. They have already recorded Williamson's seventh symphony and were to have given a very rare performance of Williamson's second symphony in the near future but that has apparently had to be cancelled. They are clearly one of the most exciting arts organisations in the UK given their adventurous spirit.

The Brunel Suite is a five movement (17 min) piece of span and epic sweep. Destiny and Demons sets the scene with eruptive brass, romantic ascents for the violins and horns and a touch of the machine age (Mossolov's Zavod). Ellen (Brunel's first love) is a tender Rachmaninovian tune taken at an easy reflective loping pace - touching and memorable, rising to a climax of broad but not obvious spread - wonderful! Gossip is a fine contribution to British light music and reminded me at times of the irresistible atmosphere of Geoffrey Bush's Summer Serenade and at others of a symphonic West End musical. The long violinistic lines of The Death (a touch of the big tune from Sibelius 5) have the expected element of tragedy but overwhelming is a door opened out onto triumphs and confident tomorrows. The suite ends with Judgement which restates and synthesises elements of Ellen, The Death and Destiny and Demons and ends with the thuds and off-beats salvos suggestive of the bleak Victorian machine age and the machine-room serfs of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. We can only hope that the whole opera will be recorded.

Midwinter is a big piece written in an idiom that will be familiar to anyone who knows their William Mathias (This Worlde's Joie, Lux Aeterna, World's Fire), George Lloyd (Vigil of Venus) and Patrick Hadley (The Hills - recently reissued by EMI). Like these works, Midwinter is very English, wintry, hard with ice and warmed with burnished strings. Its vocal parts are in touch with the winter journeys of Vaughan Williams 'scholar gypsy' in Oxford Elegy and Bax's own medievalism in his This Worlde's Joie. In fact a medieval gothic air hangs like a chimera over the whole work. These are cold landscapes: the blacks of shadow and night contrast with a snowy-dazzle and the sun coruscating off icy brooks and lakes. There is a risen religious and sensual ecstasy in the sung words 'It was the time of midwinter that our love began and the snow fell' but this is by no means restricted to this track. It also resounds through the closing pages of Miracle in which sacred and profane collide in careless abandon. 'Take your hand and lay it on my heart' speaks immediately and accessibly to the listener. Love is a superbly controlled love duet (sample it at track 10). The words are by Todd's usual librettist: Ben Dunwell who wrote the words for The Burning Road (recorded by Silva) and the Brunel opera.

The concerto is for tenor saxophone and orchestra. This work was clearly a relaxation from the torrid trouble of Brunel. An attractive work it adds richly and with personality to the already growing repertoire of such concertos. Three movements of often jazz-inflected music need not cause shudders among the traditionalists for here the music spurs and invigorates. The work opens upbeat and then imbibes some of Edvard Munch's glum sea-spirit. The sax plays the insinuating lyric singer blazing through a kaleidoscopic multitude of styles: commercial jazz, 1960s Gallic film music, Vaudeville, Sondheim, Las Vegas neon, Nyman and Malcolm Arnold. The orchestral sound is a big one but it does not close the door on yielding tenderness (the central Ballad). The concerto avoids Broadway's tinnily commercial soul and the song is sung and swung by Ben Waghorn with lyric rush and élan.

We can now hope not only for a commercial recording of the opera but also of the violin concerto and the trumpet concerto as well as a number of larger scale choral works.

The disc is produced by Nimbus and the production values are very high, in the insert blending solid information with attractive design.

Recommended warmly and with urgency.


Rob Barnett


Note: A number of composers of lyric substance are beginning to rise to prominence through the medium of CD. Todd is one and one of the foremost. Let us also remember LIONEL SAINSBURY's violin concerto and preludes (only the latter available on CD) and IAN VENABLES glorious personally distinctive English school songs.


WILL TODD composer

Will Todd was born and brought up in the North-East of England and attended Bristol University from 1988 to 1993 where he studied with Raymond Warren and Adrian Beaumont. During his time at Bristol he had performances of many works including an orchestral tone poem Winter Dances, a Saxophone Concerto, Sonatina for Orchestra and the jazz inspired Chamber Concerto.

While at Bristol Will Todd wrote his first work in collaboration with librettist Ben Dunwell, the musical Table for Two which was premiered in 1991. In 1992 St Margarets Society of Queens College, Cambridge commissioned Midwinter a 40 minute cantata for choir, soloists and full orchestra also to words by Ben Dunwell. Whilst working for an M.Mus (1991-93) Will Todd completed a full length opera Isambard Kingdom Brunel which received its first performance in Bristol's Colston Hall in July 1993 (libretto by Ben Dunwell).

From 1993 to 1996 Will Todd was based in the North-East where he undertook a variety of projects. In 1994 he was commissioned to write a children's musical Box of Tricks (book by Tim Fowler) and in 1995 his oratorio Saint Cuthbert received its first performance in Durham Cathedral. Written to celebrate the millennium of the City of Durham Saint Cuthbert has received subsequent performances most recently by Durham University Choral Society in 1996.

In 1996 Will Todd was commissioned to write a work to celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Jarrow March. The resulting cantata The Burning Road with words once again by Ben Dunwell was performed in Durham Cathedral and at The Derngate Northampton in 1996/97. 1996 also saw the premiere of Will Todd's Violin Concerto which was commissioned by the Brunel Ensemble and performed by Christopher George in Bristol at St George's, Brandon Hill.

As well as a spell of composition teaching at New College Durham, Will Todd was also Composer in Association at York Music Centre from 1993-96 where he completed 7 commissions including his English Folk Song Suite, Fanfare Theme and Dance and Yorkshire Dance. Other works during this time include The Sacred Three written for Malvern Girls' College, a children's show The Greatest Gameshow on Earth, In Praise of Trees (Bedales School), Magnificat (Queens' College Chapel Choir), and a Rite: A Communion Service.

In 1997 Will Todd was commissioned to write a musical based on the biblical story of Daniel. With words by Ben Dunwell, Daniel and the Pride of Kings received its first performance in February 1998 and has since been commercially recorded. Lemington Male Voice Choir commissioned The Ballad of Will Jobling which was premiered at The City Hall, Newcastle in October 1997. Will Todd also prepared a reduced scoring of Tosca which was commissioned by Scottish based 'Opera On A Shoe String' and wrote Sail Home One Day (NSPCC Christmas concerts) and A Pageant for Christmas (Durham School). More recently he has worked on the dance opera Proserpina with director/choreographer Darren Royston which received a 'works in progress' performance in Battersea Arts Centre in August.

In September 1999 he will be working at the Northlands Festival in Wick on a specially commissioned community opera Tales from the End of Northworld. Future commissions include a large scale choral work for Derby Choral Union (March 2000) and works for The Brunel Ensemble (Autumn 2000), York Guildhall Orchestra (Spring 2000), and Youth Musical Durham (2001).

In September 1998 Will Todd attended Kent based OperaLab where he worked with New York playwright David Simpatico on The Screams of Kitty Genovese. This music theatre work based on the real life murder of New Yorker Kitty Genovese in 1964 is being enlarged during the coming year prior to a full production, commissioned by the Royal Academy. Other theatre projects include a new musical Between Love and Passion which is an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story and starts a five week run at the New End Theatre, Hampstead in July.

In October Crouch End Festival Chorus will be giving the London premiere of The Burning Road at the Central Methodist Hall Westminster which will coincide with the launch of the commercial recording by Silva Classics.

There are several recordings of music by Will Todd including Midwinter (Brunel Ensemble/Christopher Austin) a full length CD which also includes the saxophone concerto and a concert suite from the opera Brunel.

Will Todd has also produced a recording of his cantata The Burning Road with Crouch End Festival Chorus and David Temple for Silva Classics and his work is featured on several other commercial recordings and several new recordings are planned during the next 18 months.

Will Todd is a keen performer of jazz piano. He has a quartet which plays regularly in the North-East and in Scotland. Will Todd presently publishes his own music under the name Tyalgum Press.


St. Cuthbert - oratorio

First performed in Durham Cathedral in 1995. Subsequent re-scoring and second performance, also in Durham Cathedral, in December 1996. Plans are currently being developed for a new commercial recording of the piece.

Tales from the End of Northworld. A community opera commissioned by Mary Miller at the Northlands Festival


WILL TODD events

March 2000

The Burning Road Cambridge Performance, venue TBA

April 2000

15 Premiere of Derby Choral Union commission (oratorio), A Song of Creation. Derby Cathedral.

16 Recording of A Song of Creation for CD release, Derby.

May 2000

TBA Possible second performance / live BBC broadcast of A Song of Creation

June 2000

TBA Premiere of Trumpet Concerto - City of York Symphony Orchestra, venue TBA (York)

July 2000

TBA Release of A Song of Creation CD

September 2000

TBA The Screams of Kitty Genovese premiere, Royal Academy, London

November 2000

TBA Commission for English National Opera's Bayliss Project, Southwark Cathedral


Rob Barnett

Reviews from previous months

Reviews carry sales links
but you can also purchase

Return to Index