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FRANCIS JACKSON Daniel in Babylon. Monodrama with Music. Drama by John Stuart Anderson Francis Jackson, organ. John Stuart Anderson, narrator; St.Peter's Singers, directed by Simon Lindley Recorded in Leeds Parish Church by Martin J. Monkman. [76.06] Amphion CD PH1 145



Along with Britten's War Requiem, this work was written for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962. As Simon Lindley's informative notes tell us, it is built around a series of Old Testament stories including The Burning Fiery Furnace, Belshazzar's Feast, The Lion's Den and Susannah and the Elders, set against a musical backcloth of choral and organ music.

Bearing in mind even such fine works as Honegger's King David I must confess to doubts about recorded narration. Live performance, yes. But what about the verbal repeats in the living-room? I can only say that after three or four playings Daniel still grips my attention. It is a wonderful amalgam of well chosen texts, with appropriate and enhancing music, in a relationship that offers continual stimulation. A highlight for example is the appearance of Dr. Jackson's well-loved setting of the Benedicite. This occurs at the place where the Greek version of the Book of Daniel inserts that very canticle "The Song of the Three Young Men" who have been delivered from the furnace. The theme is used, not in choral form, but as organ music in a lyrical outpouring wholly appropriate to the Psalm 148-derived text. Benedicite becomes a musical benediction. Just one example from a score that is throughout consistently fresh and inventive.

The well-trained choir interpolates narrative reflections, written by John Stuart Anderson, which at times attain an almost Eliot-like splendour through their restraint "The Spirit of God, ascending still through desolation, pierces the darkness to live." Vocal textures are spare as befits their complementary role in the drama, though at least one might serve as a liturgical introit in its own right, "Rejoice....let us be glad and worthy to stand in His house". The choir deliver these pieces in natural style without 'making a meal of it'.

Belshazzar's Feast has a built-in vocal counterpoint for those of us who have played Walton's writing on the wall into the mat with a stylus. But such is the momentum of "Daniel" that I was deflected only briefly. Mr Anderson holds his listeners with a telling variety of delivery, modulating from a newscaster's matter-of-fact reporting to a Gielgud cadenza with well-judged ease.

The ending is visionary, with perhaps just a glance towards the cinema. And why not? The film industry has had its successes with biblical stories. Despotism, consumerism and corruption are still contemporary. This imaginative work, so well performed and recorded brings these old tales vividly to life. The score has just been published by Banks.


Andrew Seivewright


Andrew Seivewright

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