In an album which includes world-premiere recordings, Michael Waldron and the London Choral Sinfonia are joined by Simon Callow and Samantha Bond as narrators in Francis Grier’s modern-day Passion, Sword in the Soul.
SWORD IN THE SOUL
Francis Grier (b.1955) & Rowan Williams (b.1950)
Sword in the Soul
1. I We venerate the wood of thy Cross
2. II Narration 1
3. III Nunc Dimittis
Baritone: Samuel Pantcheff
4. IV Narration 2
5. V O Lord, thou hast duped me
6. VI Narration 3
7. VII Lovely tears of lovely eyes
8. VIII Narration 4
9. IX Dialogue for cello & organ
1. 0 X Narration 5
11. XI O Cross of Christ
12. XII Narration 6
13. XIII Today he who hung the earth upon the waters
Owain Park (b.1993)
14 Hail, gladdening Light
Soprano: Alison Ponsford-Hill
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
15 We will remember them
16 Nimrod: Lux Aeterna
David Bednall (b.1979)
17 Nunc Dimittis (after Finzi)
Edgar Bainton (1880-1956)
18 And I saw a new heaven
Orchestrated by Owain Park
London Choral Sinfonia
Michael Waldron, conductor
Brian O’Kane, cello
James Orford, organ
Samantha Bond, Simon Callow & Adrian Peacock, narrators
Once upon a time there was a large cupboard in the corner of the organ loft in the chapel at Trinity College, Cambridge, which housed a huge array of loose music manuscripts and uncatalogued volumes of keyboard music. It was, to put it politely, disordered. Stephen Layton (Director of Music) and I (Organ Scholar) had both started at Trinity College in autumn 2006 and early on agreed the cupboard needed tackling. Most of it turned out to be nineteenth and twentieth century organ music belonging to one of Stephen’s predecessors – Alan Gray – who had held the post between 1893-1930. In amongst the mountains of old organ music, however, lay a few more recent additions…
Within the stacks of loose sheets, I spotted something signed by Francis Grier. It was handwritten manuscript, and the dozen-or-so pages were all out of order. I was familiar with Grier’s music and liked it. I salvaged the loose manuscript and took it to my room. Playing it through at the piano, I was immediately captivated by the texts and the musical sound world.
I then largely forgot about it until I was in my fourth year, with a little more time around the edges of the academic work to return to it. I reached out to the previous director of music, Richard Marlow, to find out what he could tell me. He spoke enthusiastically about the piece and explained the context of its commission and performance. He was helpful, even sourcing a recording of the original BBC Radio 4 broadcast so I could hear it.
I was captivated and knew instantly that I wanted to put together my own performance. Our Chaplain, Alice Goodman, was extremely kind and generous, helping source and edit the Rowan Williams texts, and involving Sir Geoffrey Hill and Richard Lloyd-Morgan to join her as speakers for the performance. By this point I had written to Francis Grier, who also provided invaluable support. All were in attendance for the performance in Trinity College chapel on Friday 5 March 2010.
Realising this work proved rather a seminal moment for me. It is not particularly long, nor scored for huge forces, but it is the intimacy and intensity which produce something of profound impact. Grier’s music and Williams’ words complement each other perfectly, weaving together to produce a very human and direct experience for the listener.
Sword in the Soul is a piece very dear to me, and it has been the utmost pleasure to record it. I would imagine it will be a new discovery for almost all who listen, but one which I hope resonates with others as much as it has with me.
The Good Friday / Passiontide theme is certainly not under-explored, but I hope the rest of the journey through this album provides some new and enjoyable discoveries. Elgar certainly needs no introduction, but Lux Aeterna and We Will Remember Them both shine a fresh light on a familiar melody and a familiar text respectively. The sharp contrast of Lux Aeterna’s symphonic breadth, alongside the startling simplicity and directness of We Will Remember Them, prove engaging listening.
Bednall’s Finzi-inspired setting of the Song of Simeon canticle has always resonated with me, and I am delighted we were able to commission him to scale the original organ-only accompaniment for orchestra. The music resounds to notes of optimism and content.
Owain Park has written and arranged much for LCS through his position as Composer in Residence. Hail Gladdening Light packs an emotional punch in a short and restrained setting. The solo plainsong-inspired melody against more harmonically advanced wordless choir gives a nice melodic and harmonic link to Grier.
And I saw a new heaven is, I would guess, known to 99% of people who have ever sung in a choir performing sacred music. It is a small, perfectly formed anthem accessible to choirs of all sizes and abilities. I have always felt that, despite its apparent small scale, it has inner grandeur. The first of the two climaxes, ‘Behold the tabernacle of God..’, hints at trumpets and drums. The second climax, ‘…for the former things are passed away…’, suggests full strings. LCS commissioned Park to bring these orchestral sonorities to life. His skilful adaptation of Bainton’s notes exploits these different textures and colours in the best possible way, serving to enhance the words and melodies of this miniature masterpiece.
In 1991 Francis Grier was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to write a piece to accompany a sequence of texts for Good Friday, which fell that year on March 29. The new work, Sword in the Soul: Music for Good Friday, was broadcast on that day from Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge.
The spoken texts were written by Rowan Williams, at that time the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and a residentiary canon at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. Introducing the piece and interspersing the texts were Grier’s seven movements, scored for the unusual combination of choir with choral standout parts, cello, and organ.
Originally a chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and later organist at Christ Church, Oxford, Grier himself was not merely steeped in the Anglican tradition but a more wide-ranging musician – notably a pianist who also regularly played chamber music.
Nevertheless in 1985 at the age of 30 he left the world of cathedral services to concentrate on humanitarian work, as well as – increasingly – counselling, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis: though music itself was certainly not
While he continued to compose in what was broadly an Anglican choral tradition, Grier spent a year working at the L’Arche community at Bangalore (now Bengaluru) in India, an experience that widened his musical horizons further, adding the influence of Indian classical music into his highly personal mix.
Sword in the Soul dates from the period following his return from India in 1989 but before he had begun his training as a psychoanalyst. Its diverse textual and musical content – Grier himself selected a varied group of texts to set to music for the choral sections, including two derived from the Orthodox church – demonstrate a wide interest in religion, while the score itself reveals the impact of non-Western and more especially Indian music in its rhythmical freedom, its long, melismatic melodic lines, and its improvisatory quality.
The result is an immediate and eloquent work that also encompasses the intimate drama of its subject. While the speakers of Williams’ texts are those individuals most closely connected to Jesus at the time of the Crucifixion, Grier’s varied musical settings are comparable to the arias and choruses of much larger works in the Passion tradition, such as those by Bach.
In their own highly individual way, they cover a wide range, from statements of interior spirituality in ‘We venerate the wood of thy Cross’ to the wild and furious complaint of ‘O Lord, thou hast duped me’, to the anguished lyricism of ‘Lovely tears of lovely eyes’ (which sets in translation an anonymous 14th-century German text), to the sorrow of the Dialogue between cello and organ (marked ‘piangente’ – weeping – at one point), to the unaccompanied ‘O Cross of Christ’, to the mixture of wonder and outrage in the final movement, ‘Today he who hung the earth upon the water’, with its beautiful — and surprising — closing chords.
Owain Park’s ‘Hail, gladdening Light’ exists independently but also forms the second section of his three-part choral piece, Phos hilaron (‘Gladdening Light’ in Greek), completed in 2017. Dating from not later than the fourth century, the Greek hymn is one of the earliest to come down to us: in Parks’ setting, written in 2015 for Compline services in Cambridge, it is sung in John Keble’s English translation. The solo soprano takes the plainchant melody, with the remaining choral voices creating an utterly simple but luminous texture by humming wordlessly beneath.
On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Laurence Binyon published in The Times various poems that caught the public mood and were included in his collection The Winnowing Fan at the end of the year. Shortly afterwards it was suggested to Elgar that he set some of them to music. He brought together three of them — The Fourth of August, To Women and For the Fallen – in the choral work The Spirit of England whose first complete performance was given in Birmingham in October 1917.
Two years after the ending of hostilities, a national memorial event was planned to include the unveiling of the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the formal interment of the Unknown Soldier. Elgar was commissioned to provide a piece to be sung to mark the former occasion and turned to his setting of For the Fallen.
Making considerable cuts and changes to both text and music, he produced in With Proud Thanksgiving what is essentially an independent piece that drew on the earlier work. While the unveiling of the Cenotaph went ahead on November 11, 1920, the use of Elgar’s piece in the open air was dropped as impractical.
Finally, the following year With Proud Thanksgiving was used to mark the 50th anniversary of the Royal Albert Hall and incidentally of the Royal Choral Society, which sang the new piece at the venue on May 7, 1921.
Ian Tracey’s We Shall Remember Them adapts material from the corresponding section in With Proud Thanksgiving where the use of the orchestra is in any case so minimal that its absence is scarcely noticed: the result forms a small but touching unaccompanied piece deriving entirely from Elgar’s original.
Best known for his numerous film scores while also prominent in the fields of musicals, jazz and pop, John Cameron is a musician for whom the word ‘wide-ranging’ might appear to be inadequate. Using a text from the Requiem Mass, his finely imagined eight-part choral setting Lux Aeterna is an arrangement of what is surely the best-known moment in the whole of Elgar’s output, Nimrod from the Enigma Variations (1899) — a musical portrait of his friend and editor August Jaeger but one whose associations as a memorial piece are much wider.
The composition of David Bednall’s 2016 Nunc Dimittis came about in an interesting manner. In 1952 Gerald Finzi wrote a Magnificat scored for eight-part choir and organ for a Christmas Vespers service given by the choir of Smith College in Massachusetts: as such, it did not require either a Gloria to follow it or a matching Nunc Dimittis to complete the regular requirement for Anglican Evensong.
Bednall responded to an invitation from the Finzi Trust for pieces that could be used to fill these gaps – though he insists that all he has done is to allow further opportunities for Finzi’s original to be performed. His dedication to his new Nunc Dimittis (with Gloria attached) stresses his ‘utmost love, affection, and respect for Gerald Finzi and his music’ – something equally evident from the sensitive and exceptionally idiomatic nature of his new, perfectly matching creations. The piece was first heard at Gloucester Cathedral in March 2016 and performed later that year at the Three Choirs Festival.
Subsequently Michael Waldron commissioned Bednall to turn the organ part into one for string orchestra, first heard in a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2018; Bednall has now expanded the result further to match the forces involved in Owain Park’s orchestration of Bainton’s anthem ‘And I saw a New Heaven’.
Over the last few years there has been a revival of interest in the music of Edgar Bainton. He was born in Hackney, East London, in 1880. After studies at the Royal College of Music, notably with Walford Davies and Stanford, he began working at the Newcastle Conservatory of Music, becoming principal in 1912: unfortunately, an unluckily timed visit to the 1914 Bayreuth Festival led to him being placed in a German civilian detention camp until 1918.
After returning to Newcastle, in the early 1930s he travelled extensively, including to Canada, India and Australia: it was an invitation to head the New South Wales Conservatorium in 1934 that saw him move permanently down under. He died in Sydney in 1956.
Published in 1928, his best-known work is the visionary anthem And I saw a new heaven, which sets a text from the Book of Revelation. As composer-in-residence to London Choral Sinfonia, Owain Park was commissioned in 2017 to provide a new orchestration of this transcendent piece to match the forces of another work on the programme: the composer’s own reduced orchestra version of the Duruflé Requiem, requiring three trumpets, timpani, harp, organ, and strings: the result is both imaginative and entirely in sympathy with the original.
In an album that includes world-premiere recordings, Michael Waldron and the London Choral Sinfonia perform Francis Grier’s modern-day Passion, Sword in the Soul, to texts by Rowan Williams narrated by Simon Callow, Samantha Bond and Adrian Peacock.
Francis Grier was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to write a piece to accompany a sequence of texts for Good Friday in 1991. The result was Sword in the Soul: Music for Good Friday. Grier’s seven movements, scored for the unusual combination of choir, cello and organ, are interspersed with Williams’s texts; the balance between narration and music gives the Good Friday story a very human and personal tone. Simon Callow, Samantha Bond and Adrian Peacock are among the most celebrated actors of our age, and they interpret Williams’s words with great sensitivity and depth of expression.
Grier is steeped in the Anglican choral tradition, but also spent a year working at the L’Arche community in India, adding the influence of Indian classical music into his highly personal mix. Sword in the Soul dates from the period following his return from India in 1989 and demonstrates the breadth of his musical style. The choral texts include words from the Orthodox liturgy, while the score reveals the impact Indian music in its rhythmical freedom, long, melismatic melodic lines, and its improvisatory quality.
Alongside Grier’s Sword in the Soul, we hear Lux Eterna, the profoundly moving choral setting of Elgar’s famous ‘Nimrod’ from his Enigma Variations, as well as a rarely-heard piece by Elgar recorded only once before: the intensely poignant We Will Remember Them, a beautiful and simple a cappella arrangement of a famous text.
The album also features music by contemporary composers Owain Park and David Bednall. The London Choral Sinfonia commissioned Bednall to expand his Finzi-inspired setting of the Song of Simeon canticle from its organ-only accompaniment to this version for orchestra. Owain Park is the LCS’s Composer in Residence, and his Hail Gladdening Light features a solo plainsong-inspired melody against more harmonically advanced wordless choir, linking the piece to Grier’s soundworld. Park has also produced the first orchestrated accompaniment to Bainton’s miniature masterpiece, the radiant anthem And I saw a new heaven, which rounds off the release.
London Choral Sinfonia
The London Choral Sinfonia was formed for a concert in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2008. Since then the LCS has secured a reputation as one of the leading chamber choir and orchestral ensembles. A busy performance schedule throughout the year sees the group appearing at venues including Cadogan Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral, Kings Place and St John’s Smith Square.
Aside from many of the major cornerstones of the repertoire, the LCS also seeks to champion new music, having premiered new works and recordings with numerous composers including Tarik O’Regan, Owain Park, Richard Pantcheff and Ian Assersohn. Recent premieres include former Composer-in-Residence Oliver Rudland’s Christmas Truce, with a libretto by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
Recent performance highlights include Bach Jauchzet Gott with Katherine Watson (soprano) and Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet), Bach Motets and Cello Suites with Guy Johnston (cello), Mozart Exsultate Jubilate with Mary Bevan (soprano), Britten St Nicolas with Nick Pritchard (tenor), and Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem with Matthew Brook (baritone).
In addition to a busy concert schedule, the LCS extensive discography includes the three-volume collection of works for choir and orchestra by Richard Pantcheff and the award-winning Christmas album, O Holy Night. Their most recent album, Colourise, featuring baritone Roderick Williams and tenor Andrew Staples, was released to great critical acclaim. Described by Gramophone as ‘intensely moving’, the album reached over a million streams within the first months of its release.
More information can be found at: www.thelcs.org
Michael is founder and Artistic Director of the London Choral Sinfonia (LCS) and has worked with many of the top choirs and orchestras in the UK and beyond, including the Philharmonia Orchestra, Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia, Academy of Ancient Music, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Polyphony, London Mozart Players, Holst Singers and City of London Choir. He is Musical Director of Islington Choral Society, Artistic Director of London Lyric Opera and Musical Director of Epworth Choir.
His debut album release with the London Choral Sinfonia, O Holy Night, was selected by The Guardian as one of their top Christmas albums. Together with the LCS, he has since embarked on a multi-album project for Orchid Classics recording orchestral and choral music by Richard Pantcheff. Their latest release, Colourise, features a previously unrecorded cantata by Lennox Berkeley, and the first recording of Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs in an original chamber orchestration, featuring baritone Roderick Williams. Colourise was selected by The Times as one of their Best Albums of 2022.
Michael enjoys an extensive operatic career, including shows and projects for the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Buxton International Festival, Opera Della Luna and West Green Opera.
Michael began his musical training as a chorister at St Ambrose College, Hale Barns. After a gap year Organ Scholarship at Worcester Cathedral, he held the Organ Scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, for four years. Here he studied under Stephen Layton, during which time he was involved with the Choir’s numerous international tours, concerts, broadcasts, and recordings.
More information can be found at: www.michael-waldron.com
Irish cellist Brian O’Kane is in much demand as both soloist and chamber musician. Since winning first prize at the Windsor International String Competition in 2008, he has made his debuts with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra under Ashkenazy and in recital at the Wigmore Hall. Brian is a former “Rising Star” of Ireland’s National Concert Hall and recorded a critically acclaimed debut CD of French sonatas with Irish pianist Michael McHale for the Champs Hill label.
Brian enjoys playing chamber music with various ensembles and as a member of the award-winning Navarra Quartet. He has collaborated with artists such as Michael Collins, Aleksandar Madzar, Pekka Kuusisto, Antoine Tamestit, Nicolas Altstaedt, Priya Mitchell, Julius Drake, Sir James Galway and the Doric, Elias and Marmen quartets. Brian has also performed at concert halls and festivals throughout the world such as Sydney Opera House, the Lincoln Centre, Seoul Arts Centre, Suntory Hall Tokyo, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, West Cork, Radio France- Montpellier, BBC Proms, Lockenhaus and the Weesp Chamber Music Festival, Holland of which his quartet are the artistic directors.
Brian is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London and the Queen Elizabeth Music Chapel, Brussels. Brian’s biggest influences have come from Louise Hopkins and at Prussia Cove & Chamber Studio from studies with Steven Isserlis, Ferenc Rados, Rainer Schmidt and Eberhard Feltz. Brian currently plays on a Grancino cello made in Milan in 1698, generously on loan from the Cruft – Grancino Trust which is administered by the Royal Society of Musicians.
James Orford is currently the Assistant Director of Music at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, having recently completed a year as the Acting College Organist and Head of Organ at Eton College. His past positions include being Organist in Residence at Westminster Cathedral, before which he was Organ Scholar at St Paul’s Cathedral. Previously, he held the Organ Scholarships at Truro Cathedral, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and King’s College, London. He studied with Bine Bryndorf and David Titterington at the Royal Academy of Music, obtaining top marks in both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. He was awarded the Duchess of Gloucester’s award for exemplary studentship upon completion of his undergraduate course, and was subsequently awarded one of the Academy’s prestigious Bicentenary Scholarships for his Master’s degree.
James enjoys a busy performing schedule and has given recitals and concerts in many of the UK’s most notable venues and at a number of major festivals. In 2021, his debut solo album – a complete organ transcription of Vivaldi’s L’estro Armonico – was released on the Linn Record Label. He appears on several other discs as both an organist and pianist. These include collaborations with the London Choral Sinfonia, and the Chapel Choirs of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and King’s College, London. Last year, he recorded a brand-new organ concerto by Richard Pantcheff and was the pianist for a recording of Vaughan Williams’ strings and piano version of the Five Mystical Songs, with Roderick Williams as the soloist.
We all know the brilliant voice of Samantha Bond. Known for her role as Lady Rosamund Painswick in Downton Abbey the movie, after playing the role in 5 seasons of the multi-award winning series – she is also widely recognised as Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond franchise and Auntie Angela in the 4 time BAFTA nominated comedy series Outnumbered. Recently, she has starred in comedy programme Riding Hood: After Ever After and film Hounded on Disney+ where she plays a lead role.
Alongside her comedic expertise, Samantha holds a wonderfully poised delivery in her work having narrated tv series Agatha Christie’s England and Channel 5’s new show: Secrets of the Royal Palaces. She has also narrated an extensive list of audiobook series such as Her Majesty The Queen Investigates, Magpie Murders, and Bridget Jones as well as other popular audio dramas and biographies.
The eloquent Simon Callow is a hard voice not to recognise. In his narration, Simon holds an informative tone with a great deal of emotion interjected in his reading; as a master of RP, Simon is also able to speak French and German during his work. Simon is well-known for his roles in The Witcher and Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love as well as Four Weddings and a Funeral and A Room with a View which earned Simon his 2 BAFTA nominations.
A brilliant storyteller, Simon has previously narrated the animated series: Claude, comedy show: Born Silly, and the Charles Dickens classic: A Christmas Carol. He is also to be seen in the highly anticipated movie Dr Jekyll, set to be released in 2023.
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