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Jonathan Dove's "The Far Theatricals of Day" for soloists, choir, brass quintet and organ, was composed in 2003 in response to a joint commission from the John Armitage Memorial and the Arts Patrons' Trust. It was written in memory of the composer and conductor Christopher Whelen (1927-1993) and is a setting of selected verses by the American poet Emily Dickinson, many of which remained hidden until after her death. The title is taken from another Emily Dickinson poem and illustrates the way in which the work as a whole represents the unfolding of a day, with opportunities for a theatrical element in performance. The opening movement begins in the distance with a soprano soloist and a single trumpeter and also features an off-stage chorus of male voices, while the second section begins with a wordless chorus of upper voices, still in the distance, leading to a representation of birdsong from the organ and counter-tenor soloist. The third movement is short and restrained, with simple chordal writing for choir and muted brass, while the fourth section, by contrast, uses more complex five-part counterpoint for the four vocal soloists and the horn, although the dynamic level remains basically gentle. The following movement begins with a dialogue between the tenor soloist and chorus, including some unpitched chanting from the choir, and continues with a section where the full power of the complete ensemble is finally unleashed - the final movement is a summing-up, containing elements of all that has gone before, with the musicians gradually leaving the stage until finally just the soprano and trumpet are left, as at the opening. The piece was a finalist in the 2003 Radio 3 British Composer Awards, and this is its first recording.
We follow this with two of Jonathan Dove's shorter choral works, with particular resonance for the Advent and Christmas seasons. "I am the day" was commissioned by the Spitalfields Festival and first performed in Christ Church, Spitalfields by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge in 1999. It is a setting of the legend of St. Christopher from the Book of Revelation and contrasts the hushed reverence of the opening phrase with a livelier, sparkling texture for the words "I am Alpha and Omega." Later on the traditional hymn tune for "O come, o come Emmanuel" is also woven into the writing. "The Three Kings" was commissioned by King's College, Cambridge for the 2000 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and uses a poem by Dorothy L. Sayers. The setting employs a different musical characteristic for each of the three sections, to represent the imagined variety in personality of the kings, although the opening motif, heard in the soprano part at the very beginning, provides a link throughout.
Timothy Jackson's "No Answer" was the 2002 commission for the John Armitage Memorial and is a setting of a group of poems whose writers were all political prisoners in Africa and Russia during the last century. The Nigerian writer Chris Abani was imprisoned and tortured a number of times following publication of novels and plays which were deemed to be seditious, beginning in 1985 when he was just 18. He was finally released in 2001 and wrote the poems shortly afterwards in response to the idea for this piece. The other texts used by Timothy Jackson are all from Russia, and were written while their writers were incarcerated, ranging in date from 1909 to 1985 - the translations from the original Russian are by Richard McKane. Musically, the cycle reflects the powerful and harrowing nature of much of the poetry - the first section begins strongly with the full brass ensemble and leads into a deceptively simple and gentle opening phrase for baritone soloist, while the second movement has a chid-like quality on the surface, with the organ imitating a musical box. The terror of the third section is vividly introduced by eerie effects from the low brass, while the fourth movement, which continues from the third without a break, is a virtuoso soprano solo supported by some haunting choral writing. Finally, the baritone soloist sings the words of an interrogation, while the choir heightens the atmosphere of menace with repeated cries of "No Answer," set to music based on semitones and tritones.
The bleakness and desolation of the ending of Timothy Jackson's work
is followed by words of consolation in the form of Jonathan Dove's "Into
thy hands", a setting of two prayers of St. Edmund commissioned by the
Dean and Chapter of Salisbury with assistance from the Downing Fund. The
commission was in celebration of the seven hundred and fiftieth
anniversary of the canonization of St. Edmund of Abingdon (1175-1240)
and was first performed in 1996 by the choir of Salisbury Cathedral in
the Abbey of Pontigny, France, where St. Edmund is buried. The text is
set fairly simply, with the opening harmony, based on a chord of the
ninth, recurring at intervals throughout, and the use of pairs of voices
set against one another is a particular feature. The final section is
based on a hypnotic ostinato in the bass part, repeating the words "Into
thy hands, O Lord and Father" against a contrasting text in the upper
We end with a flourish, in the form of Jonathan Dove's setting of verses from Psalm 104, "Bless the Lord, O my soul," written for Eton College in 2000 in response to a commission from the Eton College Old Choristers Association in celebration of Eton's choir school, which closed in 1968. All of the trademarks of Dove's choral writing are here, beginning with a wordless, syncopated passage which sets upper voices against lower, followed by a restrained yet excited unison passage at the first hearing of the text, then close imitative writing at the words "Who coverest thyself with light." However, it is the organist who takes centre stage for much of the piece, with a virtuoso part which makes full use of the resources of a large instrument, contrasting rapid arpeggio passages with blazing toccata-like figuration to bring the work and the disc to a triumphant conclusion.