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Outstanding music

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Cantatas for Soprano


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Michael HURD (1928-2006)
Choral Music - Volume 1
A Secular Anthem (1987) [7:54]
Genesis (1987) [6:07]
Five Spiritual Songs (1996) [9:55]
Rejoice with us (1987) [3:00]
Night Songs of Edward Thomas (1994) [20:14]
Missa Brevis (1966) [11:14]
Merciles Beaute (1980) [5:39]
A Parley of Owls (1987) [3:38]
Praise Ye the Lord (1966) [2:53]
Martin Ford (organ)
Vasari Singers/Jeremy Backhouse
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden, London. February 2016
Texts included
LYRITA SRCD363 [70:47]

On Michael Hurd’s tombstone are the words “Composer and Author.” He was talented as both and as broadcaster, lecturer, and musical organizer. While perhaps most widely known for his “pop cantatas” he also produced many other works, especially in the choral field.

It was important for Hurd to be involved in his local community and may of his choral works were written for local events or groups or people known to him. One of the earliest works on this disc is the mass written for Hurd’s teacher Lennox Berkeley and Berkeley’s wife Frieda. This is a moving though somewhat enigmatic work. The other two liturgical works here, Rejoice with Us and Praise Ye the Lord are good examples of inspired gebrauchsmusik. Of greater interest are Hurd’s secular works on religious themes, especially Genesis, a very expressive and almost somber work and the Five Spiritual Songs -several set to the same poems by George Herbert that Vaughan Williams used in his work of almost the same name. Both these pieces demonstrate Hurd’s talent for appropriate and inspired setting of texts, his endless vitality and his preference for widely spaced harmonies. The last giving an intimate and open-air feeling to even the most serious compositions.

The most substantial work on this disc is the group of Edward Thomas settings. Interestingly, several of these had already been set by Ivor Gurney, subject of perhaps the best-known of Hurd’s books. Almost all of Hurd’s settings could be described as “night music”, with texts on nocturnal subjects set in a slow, almost visionary style with subtle variations in texture and pacing. The cycle culminates in ‘The Trumpet” with a slow section that is the high-point of the disc. On the other end of the scale one should not neglect the cycle “A Parley of Owls”, a work of charm without sentimentality.

Much of Hurd’s instrumental music (review), as well as his operas (review) and songs, have been recorded, so it is appropriate that this is Volume One of his choral music, which will fill in gaps in the most substantial part of his output. Jeremy Backhouse and the Vasari Singers bring the finesse and clarity of line to these performances that one would expect from their previous recordings and they are especially attuned to the skill with which Hurd sets his texts. They also demonstrate an excellent sense of pace and a true affinity for Hurd’s special harmonic sense. Highly recommended.

William Kreindler

Previous review: John Quinn



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