Monday 5 October 2020

The Passing of the Year

Voces8 (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Voces8 (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)

The Passing of the Year
- Jonathan Dove, Alec Roth; Voces8; Kings Place

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 October 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Jonathan Dove's cycle of the seasons at the centre of a nature-inspired programme

A series of Taster Weekend events brought live audiences to Kings Place for a whole variety of events presented in a carefully controlled manner. On Friday 2 October 2020, I caught Voces8 in The Passing of the Year, an eclectic programme of music inspired in some way by nature, centred on Jonathan Dove's choral sequence The Passing of the Year, with the composer accompanying on the piano, plus Alec Roth's Stargazer, and music by Sibelius, Kate Rusby, and three Elizabethan madrigals from The Triumphs of Oriana.

Alec Roth (born 1948) wrote Stargazer in 2015 for Voces8 and the work was premiered at that year's Three Choirs Festival. It is a sequence of part-songs which tell a rough story, loosely themed on the idea of watching the stars. The result is a sequence of beautifully made part-songs, with much use of close harmony which was finely rendered by the singers of Voces8. Lovely textures and charming narrative culminated in the delightful train effects of the final song.

There followed, three madrigals from the Elizabethan collection, The Triumphs of Oriana, a collection of 23 madrigals published in 1601 by Thomas Morley.

The madrigals are all commonly thought to refer to Queen Elizabeth I (as 'fair Oriana'), though some recent commentators have suggested the collection may have been aimed at Anne of Denmark (wife of King James VI of Scotland) who would become Queen in 1603. We heard John Mundy's Lightly she whipped o'er the dales, Thomas Hunt's Hark, did ye ever Hear so Sweet a Singing? and Thomas Weelkes' As Vesta was from Latmos Hill descending. Textures were light and dancing, the second madrigal was beautifully fleet whilst the third delightfully perky. The sound was soft-grained and beautifully blended, but I did rather miss being able to pick out the words, and with no printed programmes this was something of a loss.

Jonathan Dove (born 1959) wrote his George Herbert setting, Vertue for Voces8 in 2019. The group preceded it by a verse from the hymn Be still my soul which is set to a version of the main melody from Sibelius' Finlandia (the composer did actually re-work the passage from the original tone-poem into a Finnish hymn in 1941). It made a slightly strange and somewhat puzzling juxtaposition. Dove's Vertue, written for double choir, created rich dark texture by having the material for the two choirs moving at vastly different speeds. A slow build led to a positive climax.

Jonathan Dove wrote The Passing of the Year for the London Symphony Chorus some 20 years ago, a sequence of settings of poems by William Blake, Emily Dickinson, George Peel, Thomas Nashe and Tennyson describing the cycle of the year. Voces8 recorded the work on its 2018 disc Equinox and we heard a selection from the work at the album launch, but it was pleasing to be able to hear the whole work live. Dove writes very effectively for his forces of double choir and piano, and it was amazing quite how effectively Voces8 transformed a work originally written for large chorus. We started with a Blake setting which combined sustained close vocal harmonies with a shimmering piano, and this texture of voices moving over shimmering piano was one to which Dove returned at various points during the cycle. Along the way there were some lovely near-unaccompanied moments, Dove was not frightened of challenging the singers by having the piano drop out at various points. The penultimate movement, setting Thomas Nash used the combination of a slow sustained choir and a moving one to create some striking moments, and all culminated in the final joyful Tennyson setting, 'Ring out wild bells' with its rich chordal texture over noisy bells in the piano.

The final two works moved into a more popular vein, we had Joshua Pacey's arrangement of the Irish traditional song Danny Boy (the melody is traditional, the words date from 1913), followed by Kate Rusby's gently melancholic Underneath the stars arranged by Jim Clements. These moved into the ensemble's more popular, close-harmony vein, which culminated with their encore Straighten up and fly right (a 1943 song by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills) which was pure Manhattan Transfer.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Surrender to the craziness of it all: Poulenc's Aubade and Le Bal masqué at St John's Smith Square - concert review
  • Not toeing the line: Kristjan Järvi on deliberately creating his own sound-world on Nordic Escapes, his first disc of entirely his own music  - my interview
  • Toe-tapping arias & moments of drama: Vivaldi's Tamerlano from Ottavio Dantone & Accademia Bizantina  - Cd review
  • Shedding light on an important figure in the Irish literary renaissaince: the songs and airs of J. F. Larchet prove a real discovery - CD review
  • Abandonnata: Helen Charlston and Toby Carr in Monteverdi, Purcell, Strozzi and Owain Park  - concert review
  • Lamentate: Arvo Pärt's largest scale orchestral work recorded by Lithuanian forces in honour of the composer's 85th birthday  - CD review
  • Opera as community experience: Thomas Guthrie on his new projects exploring classic Schubert, creating a new secret library and urban operas  - interview
  • Richard Strauss, Coleridge-Taylor, Mahler: Elizabeth Llewellyn & Simon Lepper in outstanding form at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • 'A strange profession' - looking forward to John Bridcut's film, Bernard Haitink, the Enigmatic Maestro - feature 
  • From Early English epic to music-theatre: Toby Young's Beowulf with the Armonico Consort and AC Academy choirs - CD review
  • Composing The Red Shoes: I chat to Terry Davies about creating the score for Matthew Bourne's ballet based on Bernard Herrmann's music - interview
  • Home


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