Stuart MacRae & Bernard Hughes composers

divine art     DDX21113

Why have I put the lyricist above the composers? Firstly because Chinwe D. John, a Nigerian-American poet and lyricist, is responsible for all 10 songs while the two composers are not. Then because it was she who sought out the composers, not as is frequently the case, the other way round. She made sure to choose composers who would make her words paramount, creating music for piano and voice that would make her often challenging words shine. That is exactly what they have done so successfully. Stuart MacRae is responsible for setting the four songs under the main title Kingdoms. Bernard Hughes has set the six songs of Metropolis. 

Most of the songs of Kingdoms, also the title of the opening song, deal with abstract subjects. Chinwe begins ‘These are the days of turbulent living’ more true today than ever surely! How are we to find solutions to the world’s troubles? The chorus asks, ‘Where is the book of Wisdom?’. Chinwe refers to the burning of the Library of Alexandria in which so much of the ancient world’s wisdom was lost. 

MacRae’s clean, quite delicate piano writing, performed with distinction by Christopher Glynn, supports a thoughtful melody line that delivers the words sung so clearly by tenor Nick Pritchard. The second song, Life Unfiltered opens with raindrop-like piano notes leading into the story of an old man who played an accordion below the hospital window of his ailing wife. Chinwe uses this song to consider the importance of love or companionship to life.

Several of the songs in Metropolis are less abstract – more down to earth. The settings by Bernard Hughes reflects that. All six of these songs are sung by silver-bright soprano Isabelle Haile. Call Home reflecting the Nigerian side of Chinwe’s family background is set to happy sounding dance-like music. A Bedroom Tale suggests the feeling of a berceuse becoming more embellished as it proceeds. 

The final song, The River’s Course, that river being the Niger, has exactly that free flowing music as the words reflect on possible futures for Africa and perhaps the rest of the world too. Here is music to enjoy but to make you think as well!

Review by Alan Cooper