This issue combines a reissue of the Sony recording (SK60285)
of Mirror of Perfection with some new recordings of
various choral anthems by Richard Blackford, but it seems that
something has gone bizarrely wrong with the booklet presentation.
It looks as though a couple of pages have been omitted between
pages 11 and 12, with the result that the text and translation
of the Te Deum is missing together with any information
on the works other than Mirror of Perfection. It is
obvious that the choral anthems, scored for different forces
and in different styles, were written at different times, but
it was only after considerable research on the internet that
I was able to confirm this and supply the dates given in this
review. (see footnote)
Mirror of Perfection is a response to texts by St Francis
of Assisi, some of which (notably Canticle of Love
III) are surprisingly erotic in content. The scoring, for string
orchestra plus horns and timpani, is sometimes reminiscent of
Bliss in his Pastoral, and the richly expressive music
sometimes reminds one of Bliss as well. The main problem with
the work arises from the use of Italian texts - except oddly
for the Canticle of the birds, which uses as French
translation of a Latin original. This keeps the meaning of the
text at one remove from the listener and produces at times what
seems like a rather mechanical response to the words, almost
like Carl Orff. The best musical passages come in the extended
orchestral interlude during the Canticle of the birds
and the superlatively cumulative meditation which forms the
final Canticle of Peace. The main recurring theme of
the Canticle of the Furnace brings an unconscious echo
of the third of Mahler’s Wayfarer Songs. There are
many touching moments throughout, and Ying Huang and Bo Skovhus
sing with passion and feeling, but at the end one is left feeling
warmed but slightly unsatisfied.
The choral anthems begin with the Westminster Te Deum
and end with the Psalm setting I will sing unto the Lord,
the two most recent works here, both scored for chorus with
rumbustious organ parts that at times evoke the spirit of Walton.
The short unaccompanied anthems On another’s sorrow
(to a text by William Blake) and I know that my Redeemer
liveth are both little gems, but the setting of texts from
A song of songs does not match the beautiful treatment
of similar words by Jonathan Dove which I reviewed earlier this
The setting of A lullaby of the Nativity, on the other
hand, is marvellous. Holst famously set the same text, and Richard
Blackford here correctly echoes his rhythmic freedom in the
treatment of the anonymous fifteenth century words – but his
addition of an organ accompaniment and the way he rises to the
words “Angels bright they sang that night” are something else
again. This is a piece that deserves to be performed often.
The performances throughout are excellent, and the Bournemouth
Sinfonietta provide a rich accompaniment in Mirror of Perfection.
The children’s choir sound a bit recessed in the sound picture,
but otherwise the sound is fine; and the later recordings by
the BBC Singers have plenty of character and atmosphere.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
also review by John Quinn
Nimbus were approached about the booklet. They replied
that the decision not to include the text of the Te Deum was
taken by Richard Blackford who thought it was unnecessary. Also
Richard Blackford felt he did not have any thing additional
to say or point out about the anthems.
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