ANTHONY MILNER (1925-2002): The Water and the Fire (Hazel Holt [soprano], John Elwes [tenor], Stephen Roberts [baritone], BBC Northern Singers, Manchester Grammar School Boys Choir, BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra; Meredith Davies. broadcast Jan. 13, 1977), The Song of Akhenaten, Op. 5 (Janet Price [soprano], BBC Training Orchestra; Davies. broadcast Jan. 17,1973. stereo).
Catalogue Number: 04R066
Description: Milner was yet another of the generation of British composers of the first water who resolutely and unfashionably continued to write large, emotionally direct works - including symphonies! - in a tonal idiom that they imbued with distinct personal voices, 'Resisting the temptations of fashion ... precisely the music [they have] wanted to write' as David Matthews, who studied with Milner, wrote about his teacher. A devout Catholic his whole life, Milner made a major contribution to the English choral tradition through his oratorios on religious subjects, including the work he considered among his best, The Water and the Fire of 1961. The work sets Biblical and liturgical texts in a dramatic arc that traces a journey from darkness into light, represented by redemption through the Resurrection. Milner's rigorous contrapuntal skill and gift for grateful, eloquent vocal writing are constantly in evidence, but the work abounds in impressively dramatic coups de théâtre along the way, the large orchestra frequently used to thrilling effect. The idiom owes something to Tippett and Britten, but Milner has a very personal and individual way of treating his highly chromatic tonal language. The earlier Song of Akhenaten sets texts of praise from the early monotheistic religion. The music has a certain austerity, reflecting Milner's interest in plainsong, and here the influence of Tippett is more apparent. The piece is in four strongly characterful sections, and while less individual than the larger oratorio it is structurally satisfying and rich in harmony and melody. The curiously named 'BBC Training Orchestra' need arouse no concern, by the way; in the 1960s and '70s the BBC employed a huge number of musicians in regional orchestras, and the Bristol-based Training orchestra provided a pool of fully trained professionals available to fill vacancies in the established ensembles. It was part of the regular 'Third Programme' broadcast schedule.