BLACKFORD Not in our time

Blackford’s pacifist oratorio for Dorset choir’s centenary

Author: 
Malcolm Riley

Blackford Not in our time

  • Not in our time

Blackford’s third major choral and orchestral work will, I feel sure, be quickly added to that illustrious lineage of pacifist works such as Bliss’s Morning Heroes, Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem and Michael Berkeley’s Or Shall We Die. This quasi-oratorio, cast in six major parts, explores the themes of human and spiritual conflict, and how religion is used as the pretext for war.

Commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus for its 2011 centenary, Not in Our Time was first performed on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Blackford fearlessly juxtaposes 21st-century texts (George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ battle cry and Barack Obama’s hope for the future through mutual understanding) with 11th-century crusading clamourings for holy war as well as a description of an anonymous ‘jumper’ from the World Trade Center. Threaded through the piece are several musical treatments of Hilda Doolittle’s poem ‘Not in our time, O Lord’.

As one might expect from a composer so steeped in music for the theatre, this piece has a strongly filmic feel, with shades of Herrmann, Shostakovich and Walton. There are nods, too, to Janá∂ek (in the ‘God’s Will’ section) and to Howells (in the hymn ‘Lucis largitor splendide’). The two choruses cope splendidly with their taxing music.

Paul Nilon’s excessively rapid and wide vibrato causes a loss of clarity, unlike Stephen Gadd’s firm and warm tone. Gavin Carr draws sumptuously rich playing from his Bournemouth players, with the full tutti thrillingly underpinned by Christopher Dowie’s organ-playing.

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