Classical Music classical CDs reviewed New CD reviews every day latest Classical CD releases Buy your CDs of the classics here

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Burns Sequence
Kenneth Leighton

Hymn to Matter
John McEwen

Six Songs for Female Voices.
  National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. RSNO/Christopher Bell.
  NYCoS CD1. (56' 03'')
NYCoS, 18, Polmont Park, Polmont, by Falkirk FK2 0XT. (Tel: 01324 711749)

This recent National Youth Choir of Scotland release is entitled "A Burns Sequence" after John Gardner's 1995 piece for choir and orchestra. The work takes the form of a song cycle consisting of eight settings of Burns' poetry ranging from the lyrical "My love is like a red, red rose" to the coquettish "O whistle an' I'll come to you. It was written as a result of a commission by the British Federation of Youth Choirs.

The opening "Prayer under the Pressure of Violent Anguish" reflects the religious nature of the text (a sort of dialogue with God) with a starkly beautiful hymn-like theme for choir underpinned by a quirky orchestral accompanying figure utilising dotted rhythms. The concluding "Paraphrase of the First Psalm" mirrors the religious fervour of the opening setting and provides a satisfying conclusion to the work, a true cycle of songs.

John Gardner's scoring is witty and economical and the melodies are memorable to the point of being hard to shake out of one's mind. The composer's good humoured personality is writ large throughout the cycle. The work provides an affectionate homage to Robert Burns in a wide-ranging selection of his poetry. It is a pity "O whistle…" doesn't include the actual whistling which graced the last reprise of the chorus in the London Oriana Choir's performance on the occasion of the composer's 80th birthday celebration in St John's Smith Square in October 1997. It was a lovely gesture which set the seal on this charming waltz-like number.

The National Youth Choir of Scotland is most impressive, capturing the composer's obvious affection for the poems he sets. Tenor soloist Ross Buddie deserves special mention for his moving and passionate contribution in "My luve is like a red, red rose". The RSNO plays with taste and restraint and there is some authentic-sounding Celtic portamenti from the leader of the RNSO in "MacPherson's Farewell". The orchestra is under the authoritative direction of Christopher Bell, who conducted the first performance of the work in Glasgow in March 1995.

Kenneth Leighton's "Hymn to Matter" (1978) comes as a shock after John Gardner's light touch and the listener may take a while to adjust to the more advanced idiom. It is scored for baritone solo, SATB choir, strings, piano and percussion. The text, by Pierre Teillhard de Chardin, lists the manifestations of matter, tangible and intangible, which inspire mankind's unending quest for truth and unity. Cast in one thirteen-minute structure with a series of dynamic ebbs and flows, the work's string writing is particularly fine. Both choir and Stewart Kempster, the bass-baritone soloist, acquit themselves well. It is always a pleasure to welcome a previously unavailable work of Kenneth Leighton onto disc and the craggy but atmospheric writing he employs in the accompanying ensemble in "Hymn to Matter" is a timely reminder of his gifts in orchestration.

The final piece on this CD is rather less distinguished. John McEwen's "Six Songs for Female Voices", in a two-part arrangement with piano accompaniment, consists of six settings of an unidentified lyricist, all in the Victorian manner. There is no date given but there is no mistaking the influence of Sullivan: the opening "Spring Song" actually sounds remarkably similar to The Mikado's "Three Little Maids from School". At least this opening song has a pleasant energy about it: the remaining five all share relatively slow tempi and the lack of variety begins to pall before the end of the work. The Singers from the NYCoS make the strongest possible case for the piece and bring some attractive light and shade to it wherever possible. Others may respond to the work with greater relish. In any event, it is not enough to prevent the disc from being highly recommendable for the Gardner and Leighton works alone. I hope the same forces will produce further CDs of Scottish and Scottish-influenced works.

(The CD is available from: NYCoS, 18, Polmont Park, Polmont, by Falkirk FK2 0XT. (Tel: 01324 711749)

Paul Conway

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index