Monday, 15 February 2021

The Fire of Love & Songs of Innocence: two new works by Patrick Hawes, written for the American choir The Same Stream

Patrick Hawes The Fire of Love, Songs of Innocence; The Same Stream, James Jordan; GIA
Patrick Hawes The Fire of Love, Songs of Innocence; The Same Stream, James Jordan; GIA

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 February 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Writing for an American choir, composer Patrick Hawes has produced two choral suites setting words by two contrasting English mystics, Richard Rolle and William Blake

This new disc from GIA Choral Works/Naxos record label. GIA is an American publisher with a focus on choral and sacred music, and the disc features two new choral works by Patrick Hawes (GIA are also publishing the music). Hawes has written The Fire of Love and Songs of Innocence specially for the Philadelphia based choir, The Same Stream and the ensemble has recorded both works with their conductor James Jordan, plus pianist Corey Everly.

The Fire of Love sets texts by Andrew Hawes based on the writings of the fourteenth century English mystic, Richard Rolle. Andrew Hawes (Patrick Hawes' brother) has distilled Rolle's long prose writings into six short, abstract lyrics, 'This Fire', 'This is Love', 'Eternal Praises', 'In Paradise', 'The Angel's Praise' and 'Endless Love'. Patrick Hawes' music uses choir accompanied by piano (Corey Everly), violins (Valissa Willwerth and Blake Espy), viola (Jason DePue) and cello (Branson Yeast). The movements take you through Rolle's idea that there are three phases of the soul's movement towards God, heat, sweetness and song.

The music has a remarkably transparent quality. Hawes writes lyrically and tonally, creating often homophonic choral textures which have an English part-song quality to them. He uses the piano quartet to provide a sense of variety of texture and contrast, often pitting smooth, sometimes soaring choral lines against fast moving and imaginative instrumental texture. By the time we reach 'In Paradise', Hawes' harmonic palate has become markedly richer and more complex, so that with the final movements climax we are reaching music of real density which contrasts with moments of great simplicity, and reaches moments of real rapture.

The second work on the disc Songs of Innocence is a setting of nine of William Blake's Songs of Innocence for choir and piano, 'Introduction', 'The Shepherd', 'The Echoing Green', 'The Lamb', 'The Little Boy Lost', 'The Little Boy Found', 'A Cradle Song', 'The Divine Image', 'A Dream', and 'On Another's Sorrow'.

Many of these lyrics are well known and there are some familiar settings of some of them. With RVW and John Tavener in our ears, it is a very brave composer indeed who takes on these words. Hawes has set them with his familiar melodic felicity, in a way in which he is entirely himself though I did find occasional hints of a composer like Bob Chilcott who has written a number approachable works for choir and piano. Hawes choral writing is more interleaved here, less homophonic, with a feeling of English part-songs, and again with the piano to introduce different elements of texture and sometimes a sense of impulse. The music is full of lyrical gestures and imaginative textures, a striking response to the words and the work seems set to be popular with choirs.

The Same Stream is a professional choral ensemble, here numbering 27 young people most of whom have links to Westminster Choir College, where James Jordan (the ensemble's conductor) is a professor. They make a very engagingly direct sound, often quite upfront and well characterised. The sound is more about individual voices and character than surface polish, differing somewhat from British ensembles. The recording is relatively close, and makes the performances quite intense at times. 

Patrick Hawes(born 1958) - The Fire of Love
Patrick Hawes - Songs of Innocence
The Same Stream
Corey Everly (piano)
Vanessa Willwerth & Blake Espy (violin)
Jason DePue (viola)
Branson Yeast (cello)
Recorded at the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul, Philadelphia, 6-8 January 2020
GIA CD-1092 1CD [60:00]

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