RICHARD BLACKFORD (b.1954): Mirror of Perfection for Soprano, Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra (Elizabeth Watts [soprano], Roderick Williams [baritone], Ikon, Britten Sinfonia), Vision of a Garden for Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra (Stephen Gadd [baritone], The Bach Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra), David Hill (conductor).

Catalogue Number: 05X069

Label: Lyrita

Reference: SRCD.406

Format: CD

Price: $18.98

Description: Like our previous offerings of this composer's music (05S064, 05W061, 12Q065, 04N088, 02K102), this is a most appealing disc, featuring thoroughly tonal works that mine a deep vein of romanticism and expressive eloquence. Peter Johnstone's ICU Diaries, narrating his terrifying experience of a serious case of Covid-19, might at first glance seem a curious text for a cantata with the character of a religious drama, but in Blackford's hands any sense of incongruity or facetiousness are utterly banished. Based on notes written to the patient as mementoes by the saintly heroes of the ICU staff, and Johnstone's own unreliable memories, the work traverses the stages of danger and recovery - "from delirium, crisis, lyrical reflection, to recovery and gratitude to his nurses" with the intensity of a Passion setting, and the choruses “You are positive with the Covid-19 virus” and the thematically related “He died from the Covid-19 virus” are permeated with the existential terror of a Dies irae. Blackford's setting of seven lesser-known poems of St Francis of Assisi is a passionate invocation of the life of the complicated yet paradoxically pious and simple saint. Firmly acknowledging the English choral tradition, with distinct echoes of Britten and Vaughan Williams, Blackford's music is resolutely tonal, with the modal inflections that relate it to English church music a consistent part of its vocabulary. The texts cover a wide expressive range, from simple delight and serenity to dramatic, tempestuous expressions of despair and adversity, and this is reflected in the emotional compass of the music. The cumulative waves of Baroque counterpoint in the climactic choruses are overwhelming in their effect, while the monodic contemplations given to the soloists in meditative movements are genuinely affecting. Texts included.


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