(The) Country of the Stars
The Ionian Singers have been expanding the British choral repertoire for some two decades‚ and this disc of recent commissions and belated revivals confirms Timothy Salter’s conviction concerning ‘both the vitality of the tradition of choral music in these isles and the stylistic eclecticism of contemporary music prevalent [here]’. The serene harmonies and ‘ringing’ rhythmic animation of Philip Cashian’s miniature complement John Casken’s elaborate and evocative Herbert setting. Timothy Salter brings musical coherence to the dextrous verbal interplay of Hopkins’s verse‚ and a Holstian radiance to ‘Inversnaid’‚ the last of the quartet. The complex interlayering of voices in Simon Bainbridge’s treatment of Rilke conveys the autumnal images of completion and decay with due gravity; the affecting simplicity of Colin Matthews’s carol following in wistful contrast.
Douglas Young draws the conflicting worlds of imagination and will present in Auden’s verse into a canticle whose ominous bass writing constantly threatens to undermine the soprano’s soulful eloquence. The gradual emerging towards cadential resolution is one of the fascinations of Stephen Oliver’s deceptively anodyne treatment of Thomas a Kempis; music which conveys an emotional charge almost in spite of itself. There is nothing deceptive about Howard Skempton’s settings of Edward Thomas‚ artless in their evoking of musical processes which might begin and continue out of earshot. The ethereal sentiments of Richard George Elliott’s verse are complemented by the slowly shifting‚ translucent harmonies of Gabriel Jackson’s music‚ at some remove from the searching chromatic harmony and probing counterpoint that Elizabeth Lutyens brings to Chaucer’s reworking of Boethius. The overriding image of ‘everything in its right place’ makes a suitable close to this thoughtfully conceived and luminously recorded recital.