BENNETT The Glory and the Dream
What an extraordinarily versatile and accomplished figure was Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012). As both performer and composer he possessed richly communicative gifts, and his sizeable output evinces an idiomatic mastery that makes itself felt in every genre, not least choral music. Back in May 2005 I waxed lyrical about a superb collection from The Cambridge Singers under John Rutter (including Bennett’s gripping Sea Change of 1983) and can now extend just as enthusiastic a welcome to this new Somm anthology.
Every item is receiving its premiere recording, save for The Glory and the Dream (2000). Conceived for mixed voices and organ, this 30-minute setting of Wordsworth’s 1804 ode ‘Intimations of Immortality’ from Recollections of Early Childhood strikes me as a riveting achievement, displaying a lofty ambition, emotional scope, fastidious craft and cumulative clout that effortlessly holds the listener in its spell. Gems likewise abound in the remainder of the programme, which showcases with unstinting eloquence Bennett’s instinctive sympathy for words from the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages. Of the four carols, Lullaby Baby (1986) and Remember, O thou man (2010) strike me as especially affecting, and we’re also offered three delicious madrigal settings from 1961 (to texts by Ben Jonson and Robin Goodfellow), the exquisite part song A Contemplation Upon Flowers (1999) and a sublime treatment of Giles Fletcher’s sonnet ‘Time’. That just leaves two settings of John Donne, the arresting vocal fanfare This Day (inscribed to Philip Brunelle) and wondrous One Equal Music (first performed by the Choir of Hereford Cathedral as part of the 2012 Three Choirs Festival).
Suffice it to say, Paul Spicer secures splendidly disciplined and infectiously fervent results from the 33 young singers that make up the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir (profitably incorporating, I note, ‘cock and hen’ altos, as on Spicer’s many rewarding recordings with his own Finzi Singers). Organist Nicholas Morris contributes in exemplary fashion to The Glory and the Dream. What’s more, everything has been captured with admirable fidelity by the Somm production team; in fact, all involved with the making of this CD can be very proud of their efforts.