This new CD of songs by the composer, musical director and organist
Peter Lea-Cox presents a wide-ranging exploration of English verse,
songs and religious texts in what is a largely, but not entirely,
traditional musical language. The songs extend in mood from the soft
dissonance of Winter Prelude (T.S. Eliot) to a catchy setting
of Katherine Foyle’s Let the Season lift your Spirit. These
numbers will appeal to listeners who enjoy the vocal music of composers
such as Gerald Finzi and John Ireland, the emphasis being on a sensitive
fusion of words and music.
I enjoyed the six Gerard Manley Hopkins settings, which were conceived
as a song-cycle. The date of composition is not given. I recognise
that these extremely familiar words must be exceedingly difficult
to set in a convincing and novel manner. Peter Lea-Cox has adopted
a Finzi-like setting of most of these texts, which will remind the
listener of that composer’s Dies Natalis. There is a good
contrast between the lyrical and the declamatory. Typically, the songs
reveal themselves slowly: they tend to avoid strophic repetition.
The largely syllabic settings of these words are particularly effective.
I did not like the hymn-like setting of Thee, God I come from,
to thee go - it is in danger of sounding like RVW’s Linden
Lea. Unfortunately, the liner-notes give no analysis of these
songs. It is as if they have been forgotten.
I am old-fashioned. I do not agree with the premise that ‘solo songs’
can be substituted for the choral anthem at Matins or Evensong. It
is but a short step from this to choruses accompanied by guitars and
synthesisers. It probably has its place – but not in any formal liturgy.
The present Eight Seasonal Anthems were written in 2005 for
use in the Lutheran Church in London: the texts were culled from that
denomination’s Book of Worship. In themselves these are delightful
songs that slip between an almost Andrew Lloyd Webber-y ‘pop’ feel
to RVW/Holst folksong and back to something a little more profound.
The effect is typically thoughtful. I would suggest that this set
of eight songs actually makes a good ‘song-cycle’ that could be presented
in a church-based recital.
There is a short ruminative piano prelude that has crept into the
batting list. It is a fine example of a gently atonal piece that nods
to Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie. I certainly hope that
there is more where this came from.
I enjoyed the ‘collected songs’ best of all. Usually, when a poet
issues his or her ‘complete poems,’ it will include scraps, juvenilia
and ‘uncollected’ fragments. When it is a volume of ‘collected’ poems
it refers to a carefully edited selection of their major achievements.
In the case of Peter Lea-Cox’s ‘Collected Songs’ I understand that
they have been judiciously chosen from a huge pile of manuscripts.
The introduction suggests that the date of composition of these eight
songs covers a period of two decades. I do not believe that they are
meant to be heard as a cycle as
they are too diverse and lack a musical or literary theme. These cover
a wide range of poetical and musical emotion. They are settings of
poems by a broad selection of writers including T.S. Eliot, William
Butler Yeats and Edward Thomas as well as those who were members of
the composer’s church.
I had not heard any music by Peter Lea-Cox before reviewing this disc.
I was aware of his exploits as an organ recitalist and as the founder
of the Lecosaldi Ensemble and his directorship of the Camden Chamber
Choir. When he was director of music at St. Jude-on-the-Hill Church
(1973-1986), he composed a number of anthems and canticle settings.
During his time at St Anne’s & St Agnes City Church he produced
a ‘huge corpus’ of short choir pieces and ‘offertories’ for solo voice
and continuo. These were used at Sunday morning worship. One of his
larger achievements is four ‘Passions’. These balance modern and baroque
idioms. I understand that he has also written a number of Chorale
Preludes for the organ in a variety of contrasting styles.
Lesley-Jane Rogers gives an outstanding account of these songs. Her
voice is well-suited to the variety of moods and styles required.
Her strength lies in holding an effective balance between the more
forceful and extrovert numbers and those that are intimate and reflective.
The accompanist Jennie-Helen Moston - does everyone associated with
this CD have a hyphenated name? - makes a valuable and sympathetic
contribution to the proceedings. The liner-notes are good with the
above mentioned exception. The sound quality is ideal.
I suggest that these three groups of songs be taken as distinct entities.
This is not a CD to listen to from end to end. In case anyone thinks
I am being unkind, I would take the same view of a disc of songs by
Schubert, Britten or Ireland. Explore slowly and enjoy the diversity
on offer here.
Six Songs of Gerard Manley Hopkins: Hurrahing
in Harvest [2:49]; Spring [2:37]; Pied Beauty
[1:34]; Thee, God, I come from [2:28]; As kingfishers
catch fire [2:24]; The Windhover [2:33]
Eight Seasonal Anthems (2005): Noel Nouvelet
(text by composer based on John XII: 24) [4:07]; Behold, the herald's
voice is calling (Johann G. Olearius) [4:37]; Crown him,
Lord of Lords (Thomas Kelly) [3:21]; God's word is
our great heritage (Nikolai Grundwig) [2:39]; Baptised into
your name most holy (John J. Rambach) [2:38]; Saviour, when
in dust to you (Robert Grant) [4:02]; Come before the Saviour's
table (?) [3:05]; Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn (Birgitte
K. Boye) [3:15]
Cathedral at Night for piano solo (1971) [3:05]
Collected Songs (c.1993): Let the season lift
your spirit (Katherine Foyle) [3:25]; The Clod and the Pebble
(William Blake) [1:53]; Winter Prelude (T.S. Eliot) [3:10];
Afterwards (Thomas Hardy) [5:52]; Sailing to Byzantium
(William Butler Yeats) [4:54]; Like the touch of Rain (Edward
Thomas) [2:55]; Garlic and Sapphires (T.S. Eliot) [2:07];
Baby Sleeping (Anna Ahuja) [3:20]