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Leighton: Symphony No. 2 (Sinfonia mistica); Te Deum laudamus
Leighton: Symphony No. 2 (Sinfonia mistica); Te Deum laudamus
Price: £14.59

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leighton Symphony No.2, 12 Oct 2011
Kenneth Leighton (1929-88) made a name for himself as a composer of choral music in all genres (icluding an opera), and two of his three symphonies, including the one recorded here, are vocal works.

The Symphony No.2, "Sinfonia mistica", is scored for soprano, chorus and orchestra, and was completed in 1974. In effect, it is a requiem for his mother who had died at around that time. The form of the symphony is dictated by Leighton's choice of texts - a sheaf of poems about death (by Donne, Traherne, Herbert, Henry King [?], and anonymous medieval texts) - and is not in the usual four movement form.

The work begins quietly in the strings before growing in intensity until the soprano enters with John Donne's Holy Sonnet XIII. Much of this movement is based on Lowry's hymn tune "Shining River" (better known as "Shall we gather by the river"). The second section is a busy scherzo which sets Latin and English texts on the dissolution of the body at death. The chorus sings the Latin at a rapid, almost feverish tempo, and then treats the English text in a slower, more spectral manner, while the soprano breaks in mournfully with the final couplet. The orchestration is wild and at times terrifying, especially at the close of the section.

The third section, "Meditation", is a setting of a Thomas Traherne text which celebrates the wonder of the human body and praises God for it, although Leighton's music seems to dwell on its mortality. This movement is given over to the soloist. "Elegy" is a setting of a well-known George Herbert text, "Sweet day, so cool", with its sombre refrain, "For thou must die", sung on each occasion by the soloist in response to the choral treatment of the rest of the poem. The fleeting "Scherzo II" provides no respite from the gloom, with Henry King's text reminding us that at death, "Man is forgot". Here, Leighton makes effective use of pizzicato strings.

The extensive finale expands the range of mood and invention, alternating John Donne and Lowry's "Shining River" (which now the soloist sings in full for the first time). The relative optimism of the hymn seems to be overwhelmed by the words of Donne ("... a week of death, seven days, seven periods of our life spent in dying, a dying seven times over; and there is an end"). Towards the conclusion of the movement the music quietens, and there is an air of resignation as the soprano sings: "As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell [the death knell] calls us all."

Leighton's Te Deum Laudamus was originally scored for chorus and organ, but was later orchestrated. It is an up-beat work, as befits the text, and is reminiscent of Walton's choral writing in places. There are several rousing climaxes, but, in common with many other settings of this text, Leighton chooses to end ("Let me never be confounded") on a note of murmured supplication.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Richard Hickox (one of his last recordings before his untimely death) perform splendidly, and the soprano soloist Sarah Fox sings like a linnet throughout.

Leighton: Organ Concerto; Concerto for String Orchestra; Symphony for Strings
Leighton: Organ Concerto; Concerto for String Orchestra; Symphony for Strings
Price: £14.59

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars leighton organ concerto, etc., 11 Oct 2011
Kenneth Leighton (1929-88) was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, where he began his musical life as a chorister at the local cathedral before going up to Oxford in 1947, initially to read Classics. He first came to prominence as a composer with a clutch of impressive orchestral works, including the Symphony for Strings (1949), recorded here, and "Veris Gratia" for oboe, cello and strings (1950). Both these works were premiered by Gerald Finzi and his Newbury String Players. Leighton went on to hold a number of academic posts, including a long tenure as Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University.

The Symphony for Strings begins in sombre mood before a brisk, breezy central section, very much in the English string tradition, with an echo or two of Frank Bridge here and there. The second movement is a restrained lento which seems to sigh regretfully and contains some lovely solo passages. There is a more agitated middle section before the return to the opening mood. In the finale the shadows are lifted to conclude what, by any standards, is a remarkably confident orchestral effort for an Opus No.3.

The Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings (the scoring is that of Poulenc's concerto) dates from 1970. The first movement, "Lament", opens with three quiet chords on the solo instrument before the strings steal in softly. These chords are the germ of the whole work. There is a gradual growth of intensity as the timpani add weight to the proceedings until, after a climax, the tension is momentarily released. The second movement is full of jazzy syncopations in both organ and orchestra, reminiscent, at times, of the neo-classical Stravinsky. The extensive finale is a chorale and variations, beginning with a slow statement of the chorale. Then come the variations, climaxed with a fine organ cadenza, and the work ends with the three chords with which it began, now forcefully expounded.

The Concerto for String Orchestra (1961), with its contrapuntal techniques, dissonance and chromaticism, bears witness to Leighton's studies in Italy with the avant-garde composer Goffredo Petrassi, but the underlying romanticism evident in the early Symphony for Strings remains. His penchant for lyricism is something which, in fact, Leighton never lost. The first movement is one of sustained intensity, with dense writing for the strings. As the tension reaches fever-pitch, there is a gradual release, although the feeling of unease is ever-present. The short secong movement, restless and agitated, is played pizzicato throughout, while the intensity of the opening movement returns in the finale - first, a slow, deliberate build-up, and then an increase in tempo during which the music moves purposefully towards its decisive close.

This first volume of Chandos's recordings of Leighton's orchestral music provides the listener with a good overview of the composer's writing for strings at various stages of his career, and it is interesting to hear how his style developed. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Richard Hickox performs splendidly throughout, and John Scott (who, like Leighton, was a boy chorister at Wakefield Cathedral) is an excellent exponent of the concerto for organ.

Anthology Of English Song
Anthology Of English Song
Price: £6.74

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars janet baker english song, 8 Oct 2011
This Janet Baker anthology of English song, recorded 45 years ago, has worn pretty well in transit from Saga LP to Regis CD, although recording techniques have greatly improved during this period, and we should not expect perfection in this regard. Fortunately, the same cannot be said of Janet Baker's inimitable voice when she was at the height of her powers. Her breathing control is always impressive, and the sound is at times almost inviolable. Her accompanist, Martin Isepp, is in complete sympathy with the repertoire...

... and what a repertoire! Here are some of the finest art songs in the English language, along with one or two that are certainly knocking on the door of such company. The programme begins with two familiar Vaughan Williams offerings - "The Call" (from Five Mystical Songs), and "Youth and Love" (from Songs of Travel), followed by two from John Ireland - "A Thanksgiving", and "Her Song" whose muted style corresponds well with Thomas Hardy's melancholy text. "A Piper", a sprightly Michael Head song to a text by Seamus O' Sullivan, may be less well-known to some listeners, but brings a welcome touch of Irish gaiety after the brooding melancholy of John Ireland, but the sombre mood returns with Armstrong Gibbs' "By a Bier-side" (to words by John Masefield). There is a well-known powerful setting of this text by Ivor Gurney, and Gibbs' effort, with its funereal rhythm in the piano, is hardly less impressive. His second offering here, "Love is a Sickness", is also a song of some standing.

Dunhill's "The Cloths of Heaven" (Yeats) is his best-known and most recorded song, so the chance to hear it sung by someone of Baker's class is welcome indeed. Lesser-known, but equally impressive, is the same composer's "To the Queen of Heaven". Next comes a pair of familiar songs by the irrepressible Peter Warlock, "Balulalow" and "Youth". The highlight for me, however, is Howells' "King David", a truly marvellous song which requires the singer's meticulous attention to phrasing, and it receives to the full from Janet Baker. Howell's second offering, "Come Sing and Dance", bubbles over with joy and gladness, like wine overspilling the chalice.

Ivor Gurney is represented by his indubitable masterpiece "Sleep" (John Fletcher One of his five "Elizas", as he called them), and "I will go with my father a-ploughing", a strong-boned, folksy song which the Gramaphone critic, J.B. Steane, found - I think with good reason - "almost unaccountably moving". Finally, there are two familiar offerings from Finzi's Let Us Garlands Bring - namely, "Come Away Death" and "It was a Lover and his Lass".

One little quibble: at just 44 minutes, the recital is rather short for a recording these days; but, on the other hand, it does come at budget price. All in all, this is an excellent anthology performed by a consummate practitioner of her art at the height of her powers, and is a disc no lover of English song can afford to be without.

Malcolm Arnold: Symphonies 5 & 6
Malcolm Arnold: Symphonies 5 & 6
Price: £14.03

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arnold Symphonies, 29 Sep 2011
Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) was nothing if not a man of contradictions. The tumultuous nature of his life is well-known, and is laid bare before us in his "serious" music. He is better-known to the general public for his dozens of film scores, none more famous than that for "Bridge on the River Kwai", but the backbone of his output is the series of nine symphonies. It is in these that we receive a glimpse - or perhaps more than a glimpse - of Arnold the man. The late Vernon Handley has commented on the astonishing variety of moods discernable in the symphonies of Sir Arnold Bax, but there the mood-changes are quite subtle, with little of the jarring mood swings we find in Malcolm Arnold's music. One moment we can be swept away in a lush, melodic romanticism, the next we are being blown away in a torrent of screaming discords. The two symphonies on this Chandos disc (the same pairing as on the Naxos label) provide a fair reflection of the mercurial nature of Arnold's symphonic output.

The first movement of the Fifth Symphony certainly lives up to its "tempestuoso" marking. There is a continual restlessness about it - an apparent frantic searching for direction, with sharp contrasts in tempo and dynamics, the timpani adding explosive force. Yet amidst all the tumult are some gentler interludes, such as the delicate theme for harp, celesta and glockenspiel. The sadly elegiac second movement reminds us that the symphony is a reflection on some of Arnold's friends who died tragically young (including the clarinettist Jack Thurston, the horn-player Dennis Brain, and the humorist Gerard Hoffnung). The main theme is one of Arnold's most beautiful melodies. Even this movement, however, does not escape an anguished outburst before one final, hushed presentation of the opening theme. The third movement is a brief, quick-fire scherzo, brilliantly orchestrated, with a catchy theme in the wind instruments disturbed by percussive outbursts and rowdy brass interjections. The finale opens with a lightly-scored "pipe and tabor" theme, but before long the unnerving brass interjections weigh in once more. Material from the first movement is explored, and the lovely second movement theme returns glowingly in the full orchestra, after which the symphony seems to deconstruct itself, ending with tolling tubular bells which surely remind us of the symphony's subtext.

The Sixth Symphony was written during Arnold's years in Cornwall. The first movement is all energy as themes, or fragments of theme, are tossed about the orchestra, often on a bed of lower strings playing pizzicato. There are menacing brass fanfares and harsh discords, and a series of threatening crescendos on repeated notes in the woodwind and brass that collapse into a sardonic, hysterical laughter in the trumpets. This is not easy-listening music, and must have cost Arnold an effort to write. The second movement opens in muted fashion with soft, spectral chords in the strings, and the mood is decidedly sombre. Timpani and side-drum set up a funereal rhythm reminiscent of Mahler, after which a trumpet solo is sounded over the string harmonies that opened the movement. A jazzy central section intervenes, driven by a cymbal and tanbourine rhythm, but the Mahlerian funeral march restores the dominant mood, ending in a final crescendo cut short by the tambourine. The third movement rondo brings welcome relief with a bright and breezy brass-dominated opening theme of the kind you tend to find yourself humming for days afterwards. The tubular bells that sound at the end of this symphony are all jubilation, as different in mood from those that end the Fifth Symphony as chalk from cheese.

Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra treat us to splendid performances of both works.

Whitbourn: Living Voices (Son Of God Mass/ Requiem Canticorum)
Whitbourn: Living Voices (Son Of God Mass/ Requiem Canticorum)
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £4.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars whitbourn choral music, 12 Sep 2011
Naxos's second disc of choral music by British composer James Whitbourn (b.1963) includes his Son of God Mass (2001) and his "Requiem canticorum" (2010), along with several shorter pieces. Those who enjoy the choral music of, say, Karl Jenkins ("The Armed Man", for example) or Eric Whitacre should enjoy Whitbourn's immediately accessible style.

The Son of God Mass is scored for choir and organ, with the unusual addition of soprano saxophone. The normal liturgical movements are interspersed with interludes in which the saxophone takes centre stage. The music, which originates from a score Whitbourn wrote to accompany pictures of landscapes from the Holy Land, varies from the exuberant ("Gloria") to the heart-rending ("Lava me").

"Winter's Wait" is a melodious setting of a poem with a Christmas theme by the late, great tenor Robert Tear, and was written for King's College Choir, while "Give us the wings of faith" sets Isaac Watts' well-known poem. "A brief story of Peter Abelard" depicts the famous love-affair between Abelard and his pupil, Canon Fulbert's niece Heloise, and its dramatic consequences. This purely instrumental work (here for organ and saxophone) is a set of variations on Abelard's own hymn, "O quanta qualia". "A Prayer from South Africa" is a setting of a prayer by anti-apartheid activist Alan Paton, the antiphonal style of which reflects the origin of the text.

"Living Voices" (2001) was commissioned by the BBC for a broadcast in Westminster Abbey of a service conducted in the wake of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. The music provides the backdrop to a spoken poem written by the then Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion. The lovely, plangent melody on the lonely saxophone is what gives this piece its emotional edge. The "Requiem canticorum" has its roots in another great tragedy - the atomic attack on Hiroshima - but is also influenced by human suffering on a much wider scale. It forms a thematic link with the Son of God Mass, and can be interwoven with it to form a full requiem mass. The plainsong melody heard at the outset reminds us of the link between this beautiful contemporary example of a requiem setting and the centuries of tradition underlying it.

"All shall be Amen and Alleluia" sets words by St. Augustine of Hippo. This piece, in which piano and percussion add a touch of extra colour, makes an entirely suitable epilogue to a highly enjoyable disc of music by a talented British composer of the younger generation. Who says contemporary composers can't write melodic music?

The performers on this disc (Westminster Williamson Voices; Ken Cowan, organ; and Jeremy Powell, saxophone) are excellent throughout.

One slight quibble: it is a pity that Naxos seems to have discontinued the practice of including texts with the liner notes. They are available for download on the Naxos website, but this is by no means as convenient as having them ready-printed.

Arnold: Cello Concerto
Arnold: Cello Concerto
Price: £6.00

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arnold Cello Concerto, etc., 9 Sep 2011
This review is from: Arnold: Cello Concerto (Audio CD)
This recording is a box of delights for Malcolm Arnold fans, as it includes a world premiere recording of the late Cello Concerto, and various arrangements for orchestra of earlier chamber works, including the Concertino for Flute and Strings (from the Flute Sonatina) and the Saxophone Concerto (from the Piano Sonata). There is also a revised version of the Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet. All the necessary arranging and editing has been done by David Ellis. The final work on the programme is the better-known Symphony for Strings which appears as originally written. Here, then, we have a good mix that enables us to compare the earlier and later styles of Arnold's output.

The Cello Concerto was written in 1988 for Julian Lloyd Webber, and is in the usual three movements. In the first, a nimble theme first heard on the cello alternates with a more lyrical idea in which the solo instrument is invited to sing. The second movement is based on a dramatic four-note cell heard at the beginning. The mood is muted and mysterious. The finale is built around a little scurrying motif which is tossed around between cello and orchestra, and includes a brief cadenza before the assertive close.

The Concertino for Flute and Strings was written in 1948 for Arnold's flautist colleague at the RCM, Richard Adeney. The first movement consists of delicate flute figurations against sturdy repeated rhythms in the strings. The second is somewhat darker and more mysterious, with the flute weaving tentatively in and out of the orchestral textures. The brief finale takes up an easy-going melody which tends to stick in the mind long after it has ended.

The late Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet tests the soloist's technique to the limit. A dark, mysterious first movement is followed by a will-o-the-wisp second which seems a good deal quicker than the plain allegro marking. The third is slow and lyrical, with string pizzicatos, while the fourth is an elegant waltz, and the concluding vivace is in rondo form. The piece requires the soloist to use four different types of recorder at various times.

The transcription by David Ellis of Arnold's Piano Sonata (1942) as the Saxophone Concerto perhaps makes this as much Ellis's work as Arnold's; still, the characteristic Arnold hallmarks are there. The work begins in a fairly serious, restless vein, with some vigorous string-work and strong rhythms over which the saxophone sings loudly. The central andante is languid and nostalgic, while the brief finale is a march - or more accurately a parody of one - which terminates in a throw-away conclusion.

The first movement of the Symphony for Strings (1946) is restless and uneasy, full of nervous energy, Bartokian rhythms ,and sudden changes of tempo, with sombre undertones in the slower passages. The second movement has a more airy, lilting quality, with the lower strings adding a sinister touch here and there. The only extended relief from the dark, brooding edginess of the work, however, comes in the finale which is a lively dance with vigorous rhythms, sturdy pizzicatos, and a stong unison ending drawing stumps on one of Arnold's most impressive early efforts.

Finzi: A Young Man's Exhortation; Till Earth Outwears; Oh Fair To See
Finzi: A Young Man's Exhortation; Till Earth Outwears; Oh Fair To See
Price: £6.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finzi Songs, 9 Sep 2011
This Naxos CD includes three Finzi song sets for tenor: "A Young Man's Exhortation", "Till Earth Outwears", and "Oh Fair to See", the latter two collected posthumously by Finzi's family, with the help of Irish composer and musicologist Howard Ferguson.

Most of Finzi's songs were written individually over many years and later collected into sets, perhaps with some common theme in view; but "A Young Man's Exhortation" (1926-29) was conceived as a genuine song cycle. There are ten songs - all to Hardy texts - divided equally into two parts. The first deals with youth and love, while the second glances wistfully back to youth from the alp of old age. No amount of comment can do justice to Finzi's masterly treatment of the texts. The prevailing mood is one of gentle lyricism, but Finzi's fertile mind treats it in any number of ways, so that our interest never wanes. His use of the piano is, at times, almost visual, as in "The Comet at Yell'ham" where, in its highest register, it paints the vastness of the universe, while the tenor reflects on the brevity of human life. A rousing march brings light relief to the cycle in "Budmouth Dears" which depicts smart soldiers in all their finery eyeing up the girls along the promenade. The title song reaches a truly heart-rending moment in the words "passing preciousness of dreams" (the pinnacle of the whole work for me), while "The Sigh", concerning an old man who sits contemplating why his late wife sighed at their first meeting decades ago, is simply exquisite.

"Till Earth Outwears", again to texts by Hardy, draws together seven songs from various points in Finzi's career, maintaining the gently wistful mood of the previous set. In "I look into my glass", for example, the poet bemoans the fact that physical aging does not absolve him from feeling the heartache felt in youth. Given that the composer was only in his mid-thirties when he wrote this setting, it is remarkable how accurately he captures the older man's mood and experience. In the final song, "Life Laughs Onward", the pain of regret for things that are past is tempered by the knowledge that life goes on unabated, blissfully unaware of what went before. The placing of this nunmber as a conclusion to the set was not Finzi's choice, of course, but he would surely have approved.

The other posthumous collection on the disc, "Oh Fair to See", includes several settings of other poets, as well as one by Hardy - Christina Rossetti, Edward Shanks, Ivor Gurney, Blunden and Bridges. The general theme is the transience of youth and beauty. In "I say I'll seek her side" (Hardy), for instance, the poet procrastinates over his waiting lover, while time moves inexorably onward, while in "Oh fair to see" (Rossetti) the time of autumn fruitfulness succeeds to the time of April blossom. "Only the wanderer" (Gurney) is an exquisite miniature, which may be usefully compared with Gurney's own setting of the same poem (on the Hyperion label, for instance). Here the poet, floundering in the mud of Flanders, yearns for his beloved Gloucestershire home.

All these song sets have been recorded previously, but this disc certainly does them proud. The tenor, John Mark Ainsley, captures the subtleties in text and music admirably, and his accompanist, Iain Burnside, is excellent.

Finzi - Earth and Air and Rain; To a Poet; By Footpath and Stile
Finzi - Earth and Air and Rain; To a Poet; By Footpath and Stile
Price: £7.24

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finzi Songs, 9 Sep 2011
Gerald Finzi wrote some large-scale works, including "Intimations of Immortality" and the Cello Concerto, but he is surely best-known for his fine songs, many of them settings of Thomas Hardy. Finzi was a meticulous composer, many of whose works evolved over many years - even decades. This Naxos recording includes two well-known sets of songs, and a world premiere recording.

The premiere is "By Footpath and Stile", only Finzi's second opus, for string quartet and baritone. The idea of using a string quartet instead of the traditional piano was no doubt suggested by Vaughan Williams' "On Wenlock Edge". There are six songs - all settings of Thomas Hardy. The mood of the poems varies from melancholy, through regret and resignation to gentle satire - all reflected beautifully in Finzi's music. All but one of the texts touches in one way or another upon death, but the abiding sentiment is one of resignation: death is the way of things, and should be stoically accepted. By using the string quartet, Finzi breathes intimacy into the poems, making them characteristically his, while also underscoring Hardy's original meaning.

"Earth and Air and Rain" is a varied collection of songs written during the comaratively short period 1928-32, thus ensuring stylistic cohesion. Here Finzi is at his most inventive and diverse of mood, ranging from the wistful ("Lizbie Browne") to the buoyant ("When I set out for Lyonesse") to the regretful ("So I have fared") to the dramatic ("The Clock of the Years") to the downright raucous ("Rollicum-Rorum"). Once again, the gentle, resigned pessimism - or meliorism, as Hardy would have preferred to call it - of the texts is matched perfectly by the sensitivity of Finzi's settings.

The final set, "To a Poet", contains six songs collected by Finzi's family, with the help of Howard Ferguson, after the composer's death. It is not, therefore, a song "cycle" in the true sense of the term - but then, few of Finzi's collections were. In these songs Finzi sets a range of poets (his private literature library was considerable), including Thomas Traherne (whose work he had mined for "Dies Natalis"), Walter de la Mare, and lesser lights such as Sir William Jones. There is a particularly dramatic setting of George Barker's "Ode on the Rejection of St. Cecilia", while James Elroy Flecker's "To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence" might have been written for Finzi. The poem tells of how a poet's work can reach out to the hearts of those the poet can never personally know, and touch them as surely as if the poet himself had been there. And this is what Finzi endeavoured to do in his music - to introduce us to these texts afresh so that we, too, can be touched by long-dead artists we never knew, but who had something very definite to say to their own generation - and, through their art, to ours. What a joy that we can come to these texts afresh through Finzi's music.

The baritone Roderick Williams has a mellow tone that is admirably suited to Finzi's brand of gentle lyricism, while the Sacconi Quartet play with feeling in "By Footpath and Stile", and Iain Burnside, with his specialism in the English repertoire, is an excellent choice as accompanist in the remaining works.

James Whitbourn: Luminosity (Luminosity And Other Choral Works)
James Whitbourn: Luminosity (Luminosity And Other Choral Works)
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £4.75

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars James Whitbourn Choral Music, 9 Sep 2011
James Whitbourn (b.1963) is a man of many parts - among other things, writer, producer, and choral conductor. His work as a composer is perhaps not so well-known to the general musical public, but this CD provides us with a good selection of his compositions which reveal a very approachable, direct and simple (not simplistic) style. It is music that speaks directly to the heart, and which also has some inventive touches of colour - the use of percussion and viola in some of the pieces, and even the tanpura - or tambura - (an Indian lute-like drone instrument) throughout the final piece.

The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis - texts which have provided endless inspiration and challenges for composers down the centuries - were first performed in King's College Chapel, Cambridge, in 2005. The Magnificat begins with chorus and organ in full cry. The tenor solo (christopher Gillett) is constantly pitted against the choir, and almost takes on the role of cantor. The mood-range is astonishing - changing from unbuttoned grandeur to hushed meditation to unbridled jubilation. The language oscillates between Latin and English, and the tam tam adds a touch of the exotic. The Nunc Dimittis begins with the soloist intoning the text against beautiful choral sonorities, before building up to a climax underpinned by the tam tam. The "Glory be..." ending is beautifully subdued, and does not, as in most settings, repeat the ending from the Magnificat.

The "Alleluia jubilate" of 2008 is a gloriously uplifting piece for choir and organ, with trumpet interpolations. "A Prayer of Desmond Tutu" was first performed in Westminster Abbey in 2004 with Tutu himself as the reader (as on this disc), and the choir weaving his words in music. "He carried me away in the spirit" (sic) and "Pure river of water of life" are short companion pieces for unaccompanied choir, the texts being taken from Revelation 21:10-11,23; 22:1-2,5). The first of these pieces has a slow, seamless quality about it, as of rapt awe; the second sounds a little more earthly, despite its divine setting. "Eternal Rest" was written for the funeral of the Queen Mother in 2002, being adapted from the Requiem Mass, and is clearly informed by earlier requiems in the European (especially French) tradition. "Of one that is so fair and bright" is a setting of a thirteenth-century hymn to the Virgin Mary, and is marked by modal inflections. "There is no speech or language" is a setting of Pss. 19:3-4; 79:3; Lamentations 2:21, and seems to be harmonically and thematically related to the previous piece.

The major work on the programme is "Luminosity", a setting of a wide range of texts, including John the Apostle, and the Christian mystics Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila. The use of tam tam and tanpura, along with a text by the Zen Buddhist nun Ryonen, ensures an appeal that extends far beyond the Christian world, and the music sounds - at least superficially - somewhat like that of that other great modern exponent of religious universalism, John Tavener. The fusing of eastern and western instruments and texts in this way is meant to convey the universality of eternal love divine.

Devotees of the English choral tradition, especially those who welcome a little eclectic spice, cannot fail to enjoy this offering. Given Whitbourn's comparative youth, let's hope that there is plenty more to come.

Brian: Symphonies Nos. 17 & 32
Brian: Symphonies Nos. 17 & 32
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £5.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brian Symphonies 17 & 32, 5 Sep 2011
This Naxos re-issue of an earlier Marco Polo recording consists of two early Brian works (In Memoriam, Festal Dance) and two later ones (Symphonies 17 & 32). The tone poem "In Memoriam" was composed in 1910 while the composer was still living in the Potteries. Brian gives little indication of who or what is indicated by the title, although the music is certainly elegiac. Although played without a break, the piece is divided into three distinct sections or "scenes". The first of these begins with a slow, solemn march, reminiscent of Elgar at his most grave, which sets the tone for the work as a whole. After a climax, the music quietens for the slow introduction to the second scene, but this gradually increases in tempo until, with bells chiming, the mood is lifted, and the opening theme is heard more triumphantly, at which point the third scene opens in a more subdued mood. After one final tutti climax the work expires with distant echoes of the opening march and a long, sustained chord in the strings.

The Festal Dance (1908) is a very different affair. It is in effect a short movement taken from the early Fantastic Symphony which Brian decided to dismember. Scored for a large orchestra, the work begins allegro vivo before lapsing into a misterioso section. But the music of the opening soon returns in riotous high spirits and ends in a blaze of orchestral colour.

The Symphony No.17 was composed at Shoreham By Sea in 1960 when Brian was 84, and concludes a series of five terse one-movement essays in the form (Nos. 13-17). A slow introduction, initiated by solemn brass and solo violin, soon yields to a rugged allegro, with frequent changes of tempo and direction, coloured by a liberal use of percussion. In the central lento section, the music is generally slower, although the characteristic abrupt transitions are still evident. The music alternates between spare woodwind writing and wild tutti outbursts. A climax leads to a final "allegro con brio" which drives the symphony to its impressive slow-march conclusion.

The Symphony No.32, Brian's last completed work, was composed at the age of 92, and shows the composer's powers still undiminished. The work is in a conventional four-movement design, the last two played without a break. A decisive opening in the strings leads to music of a more changeable nature, but the string writing continues to drive the musical ideas forward until a climactic coda is reached, capped by a bell, a drum-roll, and a final quiet swell. The second movement adagio begins quietly, but rises to a powerful funeral march before reverting to the opening mood. The remainder of the symphony is characterised by faster music - first a jocund scherzo, with lyrical interludes for contrast, and then a vivacious finale. Brian's last musical thought is a slow, dignified coda for full orchestra that shows no sign of valedictory leave-taking.

On this disc, both the orchestral forces (National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, conducted by Adrian Leaper) and the quality of the music are up to the high standards set by the other Naxos discs in the Brian series.

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