The Lark Ascending
In this concert, our first since February 2020, we present music for solo violin and choir along with a reprise of our 60th anniversary commission, a choral masterwork from the 19th century and a piece of musical storytelling.
Vaughan WiIliams’ The Lark Ascending written on the eve of the First World War is seen as a rural idyll of an England soon to be lost forever. Paul Drayton’s 2018 choral arrangement of this popular piece has the original solo violin part soaring high above a chorus representing the landscape beneath, sometimes wordless and at other times singing lines from George Meredith’s 1881 poem of the same name, the original source of inspiration to the composer.
Cecilia McDowall’s five movement cantata Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo tells the extraordinary story of Nujeen Mustafa, a Kurdish teenager with cerebral palsy forced by conflict in 2014 to flee her home in Syria in a wheelchair and travel 3,500 miles to a new life in Germany. With words by Kevin Crossley-Holland, the piece contains a wealth of musical effects including chorales, rhythmic spoken sections, body percussion, and a solo violin part infused with Middle Eastern flavours.
The Prophet by Alexander L’Estrange was a commission for the choir’s 60th anniversary in 2018. It comprises settings for a cappella double choir of three poems about marriage, children and death by the Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran.
Also written for a cappella double choir is Josef Gabriel Rheinberger’s magnificent Mass for double choir in E flat (Op. 109) (Cantus Missae), composed in 1878 andregarded as his prime achievement. Rheinberger spent his working life in Munich at the Royal Court of Ludwig II of Bavaria, teaching at the Royal Conservatory, playing the organ at several city churches, conducting the Munich Oratorio Society and coaching the soloists at the Royal Opera. The Mass recalls the old compositional style of spatially separated choirs used by Renaissance composers such as Gabrieli and Monteverdi in Venice and led to Rheinberger being awarded the Order of St Gregory by Pope Leo XIII to whom it is dedicated.
Alan Ridout’s Ferdinand for speaker and solo violin is an adaptation of a 1936 children’s story Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf written shortly after the start of the Spanish Civil War about a young bull who would much rather sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers than compete in the bullfights with all the other bulls. Originally seen as a pacifist allegory and banned by Franco and Hitler, it still has many resonances nowadays in the context of discrimination and social exclusion.