Thursday 26 January 2023

Faces in the Mist: the first disc devoted to Richard Peat's striking and evocative music

Faces in the mist: Choral music of Richard Peat
Faces in the mist: Choral music of Richard Peat; The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, The Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral, Sarah MacDonald (conductor), Adam McDonagh (piano), Michael Sedgwick (trumpet), Aaron Shilson (organ), Anne Denholm (harp); Regent Records
Reviewed 26 January 2023 (★★★)

The first disc devoted to the lovely choral music of Richard Peat, always imaginative and full of evocative moments

Faces in the Mist from Regent Records is the first disc devoted to the choral music of Richard Peat, a varied collection of both sacred and secular works spreading over the last 20 years. Sarah MacDonald conducts the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, and the Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral, with Adam McDonagh (piano), Michel Sedgwick (trumpet), Aaron Shilson (organ) and Anne Denholm (harp).

Richard Peat’s first publicly performed work, Tenebrae, was premièred by the Britten Sinfonia at the Sounds New festival in 1997 while he was still at school. He studied at City University with Rhian Samuel (where he completed his doctorate in 2007) and privately with Paul Max Edlin. In 2008 he studied with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies on the Advanced Composition course at the Dartington International Summer School and he was again selected in 2021 to study with Nico Muhly.

The disc opens with Peat's All These Things from 2014 performed by the Girl Choristers with Adam McDonagh (piano). Settings of poems by Yeats and Coleridge about motherhood, Peat uses as a refrain a lullaby setting words from St Luke's Gospel that was originally written for the christening of his godson. The opening Yeats setting, 'Nativity' has something rather oriental about the piano figuration, and throughout, the combination of children's voices and piano creates some imaginative textures. The 'Lullaby' in particular has a very Britten-ish feel to it.

Next comes Sanctorum Cantuarensis from 2018 performed by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College. The theme of the three movements is musical reflections on Canterbury saints, the work having been created from two different pieces written over ten years apart, both for the Kings School. The first movement, setting Paul Pollak's adaptation of Venerable Bede, mixes Peat's chant-like writing for the men with spikier choral contributions creating a striking mixture of ancient and modern. The second movement, 'Turbulent Priest' sets the words attributed to King Henry II about getting rid of Thomas of Canterbury, with music that is far more modern in intent, combining clapping with rhythmic speech and more, to vivid effect. The final movement, 'Dream: Why did God?' uses Timothy Knapman's poem about Anselm of Canterbury, the choral writing creating some intense moments. Each of these movements is terrific in its own right, but I am unsure whether they say anything to each other when assembled.

Next comes the Corpus Christi carol performed by the Girls Choir; written in 2017, it is simple but effective with a very haunting use of the children's voices. And the Girls Choir continues with Winter Landscape with Aaron Shilson (organ) and Michel Sedgwick (trumpet). Written originally in 2004 and revised in 2020, this uses a traditional English text, 'Down in yon forest', but the focus is on the solo trumpet, and the work uses Caspar David Friedrich's Winter Landscape with Church (1811) as inspiration. We open with muted trumpet having a rather intense dialogue with the organ, almost the organ interrupting the trumpet. The voices drift in, in the distance, in a sort of chant-like manner and the whole creates a striking, multi-layered sound world with the organ coming to the fore for moments towards the end. All in all, a rather edgy piece and very unsettling.

Watching the Dark from 2014 was commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Bookended by settings of Laurence Binyon, it uses poetry by Sassoon, and Gurney, here performed by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College. The beginning and ending movements, setting Binyon, are chorale-like, with lovely, intimate close harmonies. Sassoon's Suicide in the Trenches moves from lovely unaccompanied baritone solo to full chorus using a folk-like tune. Gurney's Bach and the Sentry has a rather haunting chorale-like texture, in fact arising from a reworking of a movement from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Does it Matter? is vivid, very rhythmic and spiky. The use of the Binyon at the beginning and end gives the work a satisfying structure, and the selection of texts means that this is certainly not an obvious reflection of World War I.

Faces in the Mist (from 2014) sets the poetry of Yeats, Earl Roy Miner (translating Japanese), John Downton, the Book of Job, and A.E. Housman for upper voices and harp, here the Girls Choir and Anne Denholm. The opening Yeats setting shows how Peat is adept at creating lovely textures for upper voices and harp with some spicy moments, inevitably Britten is in the background as well. The slower, more intense Japanese haiku has an interesting use of dissonance in the vocal writing, whilst the John Downton setting is simply evocative. The short passage from Job at first appears simple, but Peat renders this into something complex, leading to an intense A.E. Housman setting that develops into something full of colour. Inevitably, Britten's A Ceremony of Carols comes to mind, but throughout Peat is imaginative in his mix of voices and harp, and the work would seem to be a fine addition to the growing children's chorus and harp literature.

Tread Softly (from 2019) is a cycle for mixed voices, here the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, exploring love in all its form. We open with William Blake in a striking movement that has the upper voices keening over the dark intoning of the tenors and basses. Shakespeare's Sonnet 105 moves from a folk-ish tune over a drone to a full choral arrangement, then comes a Seamus Heaney setting that has a mixture of spikiness and drama. The Yeats' He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven is certainly not an obvious setting of those words, but is striking indeed. 

The disc ends with Mary Elizabeth Frye's I am not there, a setting which had great personal significance for Peat and which has a lovely melancholy melody over a more elaborate organ part, here the Girl Choristers and Aaron Shilson.

There are some really lovely things on this disc, and one cannot but be amazed at the way Peat manages to create striking and evocative music when writing for such a variety of different forces, including the challenge of writing for children's voices. As ever with this type of disc the programme perhaps does not quite add up to a satisfying whole, there is a sense of some pieces being included because the composer wanted them there rather than it making complete artistic sense. But if you dip in and out, then you will not be disappointed.

Richard Peat - All these things [13:40]
Richard Peat - Sanctorum Cantuarienses [13:15]
Richard Peat - Corpus Christi Carol [4:47]
Richard Peat - Winter Landscape [8:32]
Richard Peat - Watching the Dark [10:28]
Richard Peat - Faces in the mist [10:00]
Richard Peat - Tread softly [11:41]
Richard Peat - I am not there [3:21]
The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge
The Girl Choristers of Ely Cathedral
Sarah MacDonald (conductor)
Adam McDonagh (piano)
Michael Sedgwick (trumpet)
Aaron Shilson (organ)
Anne Denholm (harp)
Recorded in Ely Cathedral, 10, 11 January and 7, 8 February 2020
Regent Records REGCD554 1CD [75.50]

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Lyricism, melancholy & sadness: pianist Ruth McGinley & composer Neil Martin collaborate on Aura - record review
  • Style and elegance: with Bach-Abel Society, Les Ombres take us back to the elegant evenings of the Bach-Abel concerts in 18th-century London - record review
  • Party! London's LGBT+ community choir, the Pink Singers celebrate 40 years at the Cadogan Hall - concert review
  • Aural Adventures: the Colin Currie Quartet and Liam Byrne launch Sound Unwrapped at Kings Place - concert review
  • Advocating for a sense of classicism: conductor Alexander Shelley on recording the music of Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann - interview
  • Handel the European: two concerts showcasing the diversity & imagination of Handel's cantatas - concert review
  • Intercourse of Fire and Water: Idlir Shyti in programme for solo cello that mixes late Romanticism with contemporary - record review
  • Music, Migration & Mobility: the story of émigré musicians from Nazi Europe in Britain - exhibition review
  • Theories of forgettingcomposer Hollie Harding curates contemporary pieces at LSO St Luke's - concert review
  • Elegance and control: Miloš Karadaglić in Rodrigo and David Bruce with Karen Kamensek and London Philharmonic Orchestra - concert review
  • She wants to make recordings that have something to do with the world now: violinist Clarissa Bevilacqua on recording the music of Augusta Reid Thomas - interview
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month