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Serenity, Courage, Wisdom - A Sequence of Music and Readings for Remembrance
see end of review for track listing
Gabrielle Bullock and Peter Atkinson (readers)
Proteus Ensemble/Stephen Shellard
Christopher Allsop (organ)
rec. Worcester Cathedral, England, 29-30 October 2013 and The Elgar Music School, Worcester, 4 November 2013
REGENT REGCD435 [66:12]

The title of this disc – Serenity, Courage, Wisdom – alludes to the ‘Prayer for Serenity’ by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s an unusual and very special issue, a programme of poetry and music devised by the two people who deliver the various readings – the actor Gabrielle Bullock, and the Dean of Worcester, Peter Atkinson. Though recorded last year, it is clearly intended to commemorate the outbreak of World War One, a century ago.

The music has mostly been recorded in Worcester Cathedral, and the performers are conductor Stephen Shellard’s recently-created group, the Proteus Ensemble. The name is taken from the Greek god of the sea, who could change his shape at will – thus a musical ensemble flexible in its component parts. Their singing is committed and impassioned, though there are sometimes some strange sounds from the tenor section.

It is a beautifully designed sequence, for there is a thread running through it all, namely the movements of David Briggs’ Messe pour Notre Dame. This fine work has already been recorded, together with other pieces by the same composer, by Trinity College Choir, Cambridge (Hyperion CDA67808). In this context it acquires a new poignancy. Christopher Allsop provides the discreetly numinous organ accompaniment. Briggs’ dark and often tortuous harmonies – the Agnus Dei is especially fine - contrast well with John Tavener’s simplicity and directness in the two works of his here. The second, on track 14 has the title Kohima, and sets John Maxwell Edmonds’ famous words.

“When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For their tomorrow
We gave our today"

Also included are Edgar Bainton’s fine anthem, And I saw a new Heaven, as well as the unaccompanied motet Quam Dilecta by former organist of Worcester, Donald Hunt, recorded here for the first time. James MacMillan is represented by his Serenity, which begins with almost Victorian sturdiness, but unfolds, as always with this composer, in unexpected and delightful ways. Pierre Villette’s Jesu, dulcis memoria brings a welcome touch of Gallic insouciance. The disc concludes with more Briggs, this time the moving anthem O Lord, support us.

The interspersed readings are as imaginatively chosen as the music. I was particularly struck by the Ivor Gurney poem that I had not encountered before; To His Love is touching, but also deeply shocking. As for that great American Robert Frost’s poem Not to Keep it says so much and so economically.

A disc then for contemplation, but also for profound literary and musical enjoyment.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

Track listing
Reading – Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, vv. 1-8 [1:31]
Sir C.H.H. PARRY (1848-1918)
Elegy [3:22]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
To His Love [0:52]
David BRIGGS (b.1962)
Messe pour Notre DameKyrie [5:21]
John TAVENER (1944-2013)
Exhortation (They Shall Grow Not Old) [3:20]
Dame Edith SITWELL (1887-1964)
Still falls the rain [2:31]
Edgar BAINTON (1880-1956)
And I saw a new Heaven [5:44]
Robert FROST (1874-1963)
Not to Keep [1:55]
Donald HUNT (b.1930)
Quam dilecta! [4:40]
Siegfried SASSOON (1886-1967)
Everyone Sang [0:42]
Messe pour Notre DameSanctus [3:12], Benedictus [3:31]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Méditation [3:54]
Kohima (When you go home) [1:45]
Margaret P. COLE (1893-1980)
The Veteran [0:55]
Messe pour Notre DameAgnus Dei [6:06]
James MACMILLAN (b.1959)
Serenity [4:52]
Charlotte MEW (1869-1928)
May 1915
Pierre VILLETTE (1926-1998)
Jesu, dulic memoria [1:17]
Laurence BINYON (1869-1943)
For the Fallen [0:21]
O Lord, support us [6:49]