James B. Wilson
The Bach Choir
Faust Chamber Orchestra
David Hill Director
STONE Records 5060192781182
As The Bach Choir prepare for their Easter performance of J. S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion under their director David Hill, they have released this CD entitled Bach Inspired. Six newly-commissioned choral pieces sit alongside six chorales from the Passion. These chorales act as centres of inspiration for our six young composers.
All six chorales are sung a cappella by The Bach Choir. Some chorale performances may be as good, but I suggest few are better. The six new pieces use instrumental backdrop provided by five members of the Faust Chamber Orchestra, piano, cello, oboe, horn and percussion. Some of the instrumental writing is more ‘up front’ than in others.
The inspiration taken up by each composer is very different, depending on the set texts. The first piece, by Charlotte Harding (b.1989) is entitled Glow, that word repeated originally on a single note opens out into slowly burgeoning harmonies carrying simple rising melodic motifs. The music is modern with possibly an echo of the period of Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) whose words are used.
Gavin Higgins (b.1989) sets words by William Blake for Cruelty has a Human Heart. Cello and crashing piano chords suggest both anger and despair. Dissonant harmonies depict desolation, yet sung by the choir, they work splendidly well.
A short prose poem from Les Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud in French is set by Héloïse Werner (b.1991) for her Inner Phrases. This was a real eye-opener of a piece. Percussion and piano along with pointed upper voices present a sort of scherzo.
Des Oliver (b.1976) for Dreams in the Garden of Loves Sleep uses the words of the text more for their musical sounds than for their meanings along with something similar by Carmen Ho (b.1990) where in Easter Wings by George Herbert, rich mellifluous choral chords break up into a hubbub of whispered prayer.
Finally, James B. Wilson’s Who has seen the wind? using piano and cello in the forefront creates an ethereal, transparent atmosphere seizing on words from the chorale ‘Who gives the winds their courses’ intimating that just as the wind is invisible but all encompassing, so also is the power of God.
Review by Alan Cooper