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Gordon CROSSE (b. 1937)
Purgatory - Opera in One Act (1966) [39:34]
A Boy: Peter Bodenham, (tenor)
An Old Man - Glenville Hargreaves, (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Northern College of Music/Michael Lankester
rec. February, August 1974, RNCM, Manchester. ADD
first issued on LP in association with the British Council on LP ARGO ZRG818 in 1975.
CD SINGLE
LYRITA SRCD.313 [39:34]

Experience Classicsonline



Hot on the heels of Lyrita’s generous and expert pairing of Crosse’s Ariadne for oboe and orchestra and the major Three Choirs work Changes comes this CD single with a price to match. This is the second CD single from the recent Lyrita revival: the other being Joubert’s First Symphony.

Purgatory is the first and by report the most brilliant of his sequence of operas. These included The Grace of Todd (1967) in one act with words by David Rudkin. The Story of Vasco (1970) is in three acts and is to a libretto by Ted Hughes. To these must be added the children’s nativity opera Holly from the Bongs and the ‘entertainment’ Wheel of the World.

The libretto of Purgatory – a one-acter - is by the composer after the 1938 play by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939). It seems that Crosse has used the play almost wholesale. The story is, in very broad outline, an oppressive tale locked into an eternal cycle of death and doom from which the characters can find no escape. Even the peace of the final segment calls for divine intervention to break the incessantly vicious circle; it lays no claim that the Divinity has responded although it might well be implicit in the music.

The brusque chatter and thud of the opening and the precedence given to the drums speak of frenetic forces beyond the characters’ control. Resonating and statuesque percussion plays a signature role throughout this score – recalling the sound of Noh plays. The woodwind parts too have a special and inventive savour as can be heard at the start of tr. 7 which, as it gets under way, sounds increasingly like the model for Ligeti’s much later opera Le Grand Macabre. Crosse idolised Britten and speaks warmly of The Turn of the Screw (1954) and Curlew River (1964) although to my ears Crosse here irradiates his writing with a measure of yielding humanity. You can hear this, for example, in the silvery wailing benediction of the chorus which sounds more like Howells or Vaughan Williams than anything more mordant. The recording is exemplary with the many crucially soloistic tendrils of the score registering with all the impact of individuality. Stereo separation is satisfyingly well defined. It is sung, spoken and hoarsely whispered with great accomplishment and unerring concentration by Bodenham and Hargreaves. Most impressive above all is the final sequence of almost 8 minutes – one fifth of the score – where we seem to find summation. This is achieved in writing that is masterly in its remorseless and ineluctable sense of inevitability. This is comparable in effect with Mahler’s famous Abschied and the long epilogic farewells in Pettersson’s Seventh Symphony and Bax’s Third and Sixth. That apart this succinct opera stands somewhere between Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea and Berg’s Lulu or Wozzeck. One can imagine it being directed to stunningly bleak effect by Ingmar Bergman.

Purgatory was commissioned by the BBC for television broadcast and for performance at the Cheltenham Festival. Along with the premiere of The Grace of Todd it was revived at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1967.

The sung text is printed in full in the booklet which is good news. The liner-notes - which are in English only - are models of their sort and are by Calum MacDonald. As has long been typical of the label the text is in light olive green against white. Legibility can be a challenge.

This edgy, ruthless, creepy and dissonant little two-hander is presented to best advantage. One cannot imagine needing another recording after this despite its three decades’ vintage.

Rob Barnett

 

 

 


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