Beach; Thompson Choral Works
These two composers make good companions for each other despite the difference in age - Amy Beach, born in 1867, was the elder by 32 years. Both lived to a good age, Randall Thompson dying in 1984. Examples of their late work are included at the start of the programme, and both of them (dating from 1938 and 1968 respectively) appear to have been almost serenely untouched by main events in the development of music in the 20th century. Perhaps this is a blessing and in the long run will count as virtue. I wish their own music gave stronger cause for thinking so.
It does at least provide an easeful kind of pleasure. The booklet essay by Calum MacDonald suggests for Beach affinities with Brahms and writers of English church music around 1900, with references to Vaughan Williams and Howells in association with Thompson. That indicates the areas but not (I would say) the quality. Both composers fall back too readily on facile resources and want the inner spring of fresh melody, lively rhythm, energetic counterpoint. Not that these qualities are entirely lacking - Beach's Help us, O God does more than hold the attention, and Thompson's The Eternal Dove is beautifully written for voices. But that soft-centred, consciously 'lovely' setting of Robert Frost's 'star' poem surely gets the poet's tone of voice (and hence his meaning) all wrong. And the canticle settings in Beach's Op 63, often tempted towards cliché, give up the struggle and fall victim at the end.
The recorded sound is slightly soft-focus but the performances are creditable. The choirs, like the composers, combine well, though very occasionally a crescendo reveals an edginess somewhere among the men's voices. The soloists cope admirably and the organ accompaniments are evidently in safe hands.