A Contemplation on Eternity

A beautiful and inspring collection of works for choir and orchestra by various composers with a common theme of redemption and rebirth.

O Mortal Man
Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
O Mortal Man is a setting of the Sussex Mummers' Carol (first collected and notated by Lucy Broadwood in 1908). It is a slightly mysterious work that seems only to have come to light within the last twenty years. In the 1990s, Christopher Palmer produced the first edition from the almost-complete manuscript source in the library at the Royal College of Music. When this disc was being recorded, it became clear that further consultation of the source was necessary, and, as a result, Sam Hayes produced the edition that is heard here, with great gratitude to Palmer's earlier work. The present reading corrects a few small errors found in the earlier edition, provides a slightly different completion of the missing final bars and offers occasional alternative readings of the string voice-leading, sometimes unclear in the source. It also suggests text for the charming inner verse for four-part choir. The source gives no text for this verse, but seems to suggest the placement of certain syllables using slurs. The original carol has at least seven verses, but Howells's manuscript for O Mortal Man suggests that the harmonisation of the inner verse should only be used once. The middle verse recorded here seemed the most logical choice, and complements the other two verses admirably. The date of the work is unclear, but a superficial comparison with the Four Anthems of 1941 suggests it may date from a similar period.
Like as the Hart Desireth the Waterbrooks
Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Composed in Cheltenham in early 1941, this setting of psalm 42 is one of a collection of four anthems written at this time, the other three being O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, We have heard with our ears O God, and Let God arise. The choice of texts is perhaps telling, as Howells's temporary residence in Cheltenham came as a result of his London home being bombed out in late 1940. Like as the hart is an acknowledged choral classic, combining Howells's trademark expansive melodies with his distinctive harmonic language, tonal and approachable, but not without a few more daring chromatic moments. Particularly striking is the warm, singable opening theme for tenors and basses in unison, the hauntingly ethereal soprano writing particularly in the divided section towards the end, and the reverent repose of the final bars.
Life Cycle
Adam Pounds born (1954)
The Life Cycle was first composed as a piece for dance in 1992. At this stage it was written as a short piece for a chamber ensemble of seven players. After a successful performance (with dancers) at the Chelmsford Cathedral Festival, the composer decided to extend the work and transcribe it for full orchestra. In its first transformation, the piece included a part for synthesizer but this was later discarded. Although programmatic, the 'Life Cycle' is perhaps one of the most experimental and abstract of Pounds' work. The opening was re-written in 2010 and describes 'a beginning'. The music then passes through different stages – birth, the joy of life (depicted by a minimalist section), stress and finally death (the music being a mirror image of the opening) followed by the ascension of the spirit. There is much use of exciting rhythms with virtuosic demands made on all sections of the orchestra. The percussion in the piece includes randomly tuned drums adding to the primitive, distant aesthetic of the work.
The Lord is my Shepherd
Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)
Lennox Berkeley began composing at a young age but initially the idea of making his living as a professional musician was not apparent. He studied Modern Languages at Oxford and it was here that he wrote his first published work. The composer Ravel, suggested that Berkeley should study composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. This he did and she had a profound effect on his development both personally and as a composer. The 'Lord is my Shepherd' is a relatively late work and represents Berkeley at his most lyrical. It was commissioned to mark the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Chichester Cathedral and was first performed in 1975, the year that Berkeley became president of the Performing Right Society. The piece features a fine and memorable treble solo as well as convincing word painting.
The Martyrdom of Latimer
Adam Pounds (born 1954)
Composed to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Ely Sinfonia, this work explores the final days of the cleric Hugh Latimer's life, his death at the stake and his martyrdom. In order to give a sense of period modal themes and liturgical ideas are combined with strong rhythmic statements. The opening music is based on that of the Tudor composer Robert White, who was Master of the Choristers at Ely Cathedral. After a strong bell-like statement from the full orchestra, a flowing liturgical figure is introduced. There then follows an adagio that features an oboe solo in which the isolation of the character can be felt. The music then rises in tension representing the execution of Latimer and the following bass and tuba interventions utter the final death throws. The harmony then changes in nature to a more ethereal character and heralds the four trumpet parts. In the original performance, two of the players are sited in the gallery in order to exploit the special acoustic of the cathedral. The composer was asked to explore the concept of resurrection in the piece and to this end he has designed a coda which employs material earlier heard in the work that represents Latimer's character. After a short chorale-like figure in the brass the opening music returns in a more extended and assertive form. This is intended to reinforce the concept that in death, Latimer became more powerful and therefore 'alive'.
Lo, the Full Final Sacrifice
Gerald Finzi (1901 - 1956)

Lo, the full, final sacrifice (Op. 26) was commissioned by the Revd Walter Hussey for the 53rd anniversary of the consecration of St Matthew's Church, Northampton. Finzi orchestrated the piece for its performance at the Three Choirs Festival in 1947, and the reduced orchestration heard here is by Jonathan Rathbone, with support of the Finzi Trust. The text is assembled from two poems of Richard Crashaw (c. 1613-1649), an English poet of the Metaphysical tradition of John Donne and Thomas Traherne, 'Adoro Te' and 'Lauda Sion Salvatorem'. These constitute poetic translations of Latin hymns by St Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274). Finzi did not set the entirety of both poems; he instead excerpted and re-ordered selected stanzas from Crashaw's original to create a composite text for the work. The music of the piece is typical of Finzi's style - expansive, colourful, with suggestions of nostalgia and longing. The highly sectionalized form follows the stanza divisions of the text, featuring episodes of homophonic textures as well as short stretches of polyphony. The choral forces are used in a very varied way, ranging from unison and two-part writing to the luxurious 8-part Amen at the end of the piece.

To the right you can listen to a section of each of the tracks on the CD using the Flash Player and above you will find in depth information about each of the works on the disc by clicking on the respective title.