see also review by William
This is not my first encounter with the music of Will Todd on disc. I reviewed
his Mass in Blue some time ago and then last year I tackled
a CD that included his Durham Jazz Evensong as well as some
individual pieces. I enjoyed Mass in Blue, though I thought the
jazz soprano role was a little overdone at times, but was rather less
with the second disc. Now Todd’s music has been taken up on disc by
Short and his crack choir, Tenebrae.
I can completely understand the logic behind issuing discs like this which
devoted to a single composer. However, this can sometimes pose a problem
a reviewer who, almost by definition, is likely to listen to most, if not
of the contents at once: it’s not really feasible to listen to a
of tracks and then listen to a bit more the next day and so on. The
arises if the music on the programme is insufficiently varied and
afraid this is the case here. What I found so interesting and stimulating
Mass in Blue was the variety of the music, albeit within the jazz
In particular, some of the music was slow and expressive while other
were fast and exciting. I’m afraid whoever has put this latest
of Todd’s music together has not done him any favours.
The trouble is that so much of the music is in a slow or moderate tempo.
I was craving some music in a more upbeat tempo. Finally, with the third
of Among Angels my prayers were answered but this was track 10 of
disc and nearly fifty minutes into the programme. Even then, the
music lasted for about 90 seconds before lapsing into a slow speed. Worse
the first seven items on the disc are rather similar. Heard individually,
are pleasant - and sometimes more than that - but there’s a certain
to everything, at least to my ears, and programming these pieces one after
induces a feeling of ennui.
But then we get to Among Angels (tracks 8 - 10) and something
This three-movement piece was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation for
at a concert in Salzburg in 2006 by The Sixteen. The work is scored for
choir with harp accompaniment. Listening to it you feel that, given the
of performance by a virtuoso chamber choir, Todd’s imagination has
liberated. The three movements of this work are unlike anything else on
disc in the sense that we find the composer exploring and exploiting the
of choral textures - and doing so most effectively. I wouldn’t
say that Among Angels is great music but it’s imaginative and
and it is, by some distance, the most interesting on Tenebrae’s
I should say that the piece which follows it, You Have Seen the House
is also very interesting. This piece, for choir and organ, was inspired by
colours that are on display in the many works of art in Chichester
A powerful organ introduction and a very arresting first entry for the
set the tone for the music that follows. Todd is inspired by the text - by
S. Eliot - to produce some powerful music and a memorable piece is the
If I’d been planning this disc I’d have made this the first
As I said, the remaining pieces are nice enough individually but
a certain sameness about much of the music. Two of the pieces, The Lord
My Shepherd and That We May Love Again are excerpts from a more
work, Todd’s Te Deum, and I’d be interested to know how
fit within that larger context. It may well be that each provides a
or peaceful interlude between more powerful movements in the Te Deum.
individually both give pleasure, even if the thematic material of The
is My Shepherd sounds a bit limited, leading to a feeling of
That We May Love Again is a setting of some lines by Ben Dunwell, a
collaborator with Todd, and Todd’s committed music rises to the
mood of the text. I would probably have admired it more if it hadn’t
surrounded by so much other slow, sometimes rather bland music.
Man Unkind is also taken from a bigger work, the oratorio St.
I’ve not heard that work but the recording of it was warmly received
no less than three of my colleagues (review).
There’s a bit more grit in the harmonies than is the case with some
the other pieces, though there are some easy-sounding passages too: one
what it sounds like in the context of the complete oratorio.
The Call of Wisdom receives its first recording hot off the press
it was first heard as recently as June 2012 at the special service in St
Cathedral to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Then it was
- very nicely - by a specially formed children’s choir. Here it is
in an SATB version. It made a good impression when sung by the children
now, in the hands of adults it sounds a little bland. I might feel
about it if I were to hear it in a programme of music by other composers.
I’ve heard a couple of the pieces before. My Lord Has Come is
Christmas piece. It’s simple and rather lovely; this is a very
composition. Vidi Speciosam contains some interesting harmonies
at times, colour the words well. However, placing it in the company of
other slow tempo material is a disadvantage, I feel, and the musical
does sound to be spread a little thinly; pruning the piece by a couple of
might have worked wonders.
There’s a good deal to enjoy here though the quality of the musical
is uneven and much of it lacks the grit and originality that made Mass
Blue stand out. As you’d expect, the performances by Tenebrae
consistently excellent so in that respect Will Todd’s music has been
served it’s just a pity that the programme is something of a mixed