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Judith BINGHAM (b.1952)
Remoter Worlds - Choral Music
Gleams of a Remoter World (1997) [6:49]
The Shephearde’s Calendar (2006) [10:59]: Winter [3:57]; Spring [4:18]; Autumn [2:44]
Water Lilies (1999)
Irish Tenebrae (1990, rev. 1992, 2007)
Unpredictable but Providential (1992, rev 2007) [3:35]
Beneath These Alien Stars (2001) [3:45]
Ghost Towns of the American West (2005) [11:24]
Richard Benjafield, Chris Brannick (percussion); Iain Farrington (organ); Krysia Osostowicz (violin); Olivia Robinson (soprano)
BBC Singers/David Hill
rec. St Paul's Church Knightsbridge, London, 25, 31 January, 1 February 2008. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

This is a follow-on from the excellent Secret Garden disc and presents more of Judith Bingham's choral music, sung by the BBC Singers, of whom she used to be a member. Although it is very interesting to hear more of this composer's work and good to see the greater prominence that this further release will bring her, Remoter Worlds is - as its name might suggest - less accessible to listeners new to her work than the earlier Naxos disc. The music spans quite a range in terms of date of composition, some being early works revised recently and others being composed in the last five years. 

The first and first tracks are inspired by alpine landscapes and the echo of mountain valleys. This has been there at in this recording by the use of the echo of the space in St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge and by placing the soloists behind the main body of the choir in the first work. The third piece, Waterlilies, was commissioned as part of A Garland for Linda, a memorial of Linda McCartney and is about the healing power of music. It is inspired particularly by the composer’s experience of swimming in a warm lake high up in the Alps and her reflections on the ability of the water-lilies in that lake to survive being frozen in the winter ice to flower again the following summer. 

The second work on this disc, The Shephearde's Calendar is probably the most accessible and melodically straightforward piece. It has received widespread critical approval. The work was commissioned by the Saint Louis Chamber Choir, to whom the composer was introduced by Richard Rodney Bennett. It is based on the Somerset folk-song One Man shall Mow my Meadow and on the poem by Spenser. The movements start with "winter", progress through "spring" to "autumn". The second, "spring", movement uses an American puritan setting of Psalm 23 and is a very beautiful arrangement of those well-known words. Its sound-world is reminiscent of my favourite track on her previous disc, The Darkness is No Darkness / Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace. 

The other work here to have come widely to notice is the Irish Tenebrae, which sets the Maundy Thursday responses in the context of the Irish troubles of the 1970s. It draws parallels between the themes of violent revenge in both. The poetry of Yeats recurs, along with the uniquely Irish sound of the bodhran. It is a work I find admirable rather than comfortable: powerful and challenging, evocative, ambiguous and never wholly resolved. 

Beneath these Alien Stars takes up a similar theme of response to violence and tension. It was written in response to 9/11 and sets Pioneer Woman by the Mormon poet Vesta Pierce Crawford. It deploys simple melodies for upper voices and organ, creating a sense of overwhelming inhospitable space. Ghost Towns of the American West is also inspired by American places and events. Again it uses the poetry of Vesta Pierce Crawford. The commission for the piece was a prize for winning a choral competition in Utah whence this poet originated. It sets five of her poems over three movements and again creates the sense of a vast landscape on which humanity makes only a small and temporary mark. 

Judith Bingham is a talented and interesting composer who as a singer herself writes naturally and successfully for the voice. The earlier disc - which I nominated as a Disc of the Year in 2007 - showcased a wider range of her music, including brass band and organ as well as vocal writing. It included a work based on a popular hymn and one based on sea shanties. This disc has depth rather than the breadth of its predecessor and often tackles difficult subjects.

Julie Williams 



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