In an album of world-premiere recordings, Ben Parry conducts London Voices and the English Chamber Orchestra in choral music by British composer Jonathan Rutherford.
I Slept And Dreamed That Life Was Beauty
Jonathan Rutherford (b.1953)
1. Psalm 13 (1978)
2. The Artist (2015)
3. The Master (2016)
4. Final Parting (1995)
Amy Lyddon, contralto
Caroline Dale, cello
Four Toasts (1966-2011)
5. An Old Toast
6. The Hardy Sailor
8. The Farmers Toast, preceded by A Pensive Interlude
English Chamber Orchestra
Ben Parry, conductor
Psalm 13 (1978) is a setting for large chorus (though there are only 16 in this recording) and strings, often subdivided into 22 parts (12 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos and 2 double-basses). I have used the King James Version. I chose the words for having dramatic emotional contrast and possibilities, and a clear three-part structure. Inspired by Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for strings and Shostakovich’s 14th symphony, I wanted to use a string orchestra as accompaniment to the choir. I was very taken with the wild passages of fast notes in Shostakovich’s piece, and needed to emulate the power of such music in a work of my own. I revised the score in 2011, but in my original version, there were several passages which were aleatoric; that is, with each string player playing phrases in free rhythm, not co-ordinating with the other players, who play the same passages of music within the over-all time limit. In the revision, I formalised the freedom. It happened to be much easier to write instrumental parts that way when using the Sibelius music software, and was going to be much simpler to record in the short space of time which was available: three hours only. The first four lines of Psalm 13 repeatedly state the poet’s misery. It is not until the fifth line that the music breaks free from its slow confinement and goes on the rampage with angry thoughts. At the end, however, there is deep peace. The music ends with unfinished questions. And the memory of the undeveloped melody echoes, after the piece has properly finished, as if the whole musical journey could repeat.
The Artist and The Master are two of Oscar Wilde’s six Poems in Prose which were published in the ‘Fortnightly Review’ in 1894. They were developed amongst friends, and were the result of being told many times in a spontaneous and improvisatory manner. They owe their style to the language of the Song of Solomon and the Gospels. Jesus Christ’s character as a man and his identification with God aroused Oscar Wilde’s sense of dramatic contrast. Wilde was a natural storyteller, and Jesus taught in parables, and both had a sense of their tragic destiny. From an early age I found Oscar Wilde’s words lent themselves to music. As a child, I loved his fairy tales, and later turned his two stories, The Nightingale and the Rose and The Star Child into operas; a third one, The Young King, being incorporated into the latter.
Final Parting was composed in Summer 1995, and the score is inscribed “to the memory of Svetlana Ilieva”. It was commissioned by the author of its words, Julie Rutherford (who happens to be no relation) to express grief at the loss of a friend. Julie suggested that I might use poems from Rilke’s Book of Hours. I suggested that she might prefer to write some words of her own, but Julie felt that she might not do just justice to her feelings. That very day I sketched much of the music which became my piece, the Rilke String Quartet, (also known as From Rilke’s Book of Hours), before Julie returned to me and said that she really would like to express her thoughts in her own words. The result was this piece for contralto, choir, cello and orchestra, though it was originally conceived for a smaller instrumental version (contralto, choir, cello, organ and piano). The first performance took place on Remembrance Day 1996, with The Little Motet Choir and Orchestra conducted by John Harmar-Smith. Elizabeth Lane sang contralto, and Olga Hegedus played the cello solo.
Four Toasts started out as a collection of separate choral songs written when I was 13, humorously entitled Mugs Jugs and Slugs by my father. In 2011, Eye Bach Choir commissioned me to write a work for them, and I transformed these early choral songs into Four Toasts. Originally, the first toast was a funerial epitaph with different words, a gloomy round, in the manner of Benjamin Britten’s Old Abram Brown. I turned it into the rollicking tune it now is, when I discovered the cheerful and celebrational words of An Old Toast. The words of The Hardy Sailor and the first two verses of The Farmer’s Toast were found on antique mugs. When I was 14 or 15, my early setting of The Hardy Sailor was extended and made more rhapsodic, and I repeatedly used the words in different musical settings to explore the amorous feelings in various moods. The third toast Slugs was written when I was 13, and apart from being orchestrated here, it is unchanged. The six lines which precede The Farmer’s Toast were added for structural completeness. When I discovered the existence of 5 extra verses in The Farmer’s Toast, I considerably extended it to give Four Toasts better substance and form. Melodic ideas are related between all the movements. The orchestrations were finally done in 2020.
One of the first students to attend the Yehudi Menuhin School, Jonathan Rutherford went on to study with Lennox Berkeley, Harrison Birtwistle, Nadia Boulanger and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Rutherford’s choral music embraces sacred and secular texts ranging from the Bible to Oscar Wilde. This release features Rutherford’s setting of Psalm 13 for choir and strings, in which lamentation gives way to peace; The Artist and The Master, in which he adds musical layers to Wilde’s spiritual storytelling; and the elegiac Final Parting, to words by Julie Rutherford. The release ends with the good-humoured Four Toasts, composed during Rutherford’s teen years and later revised and orchestrated.
Jonathan was born in 1953 and started learning the piano at the age of 5. He was one of the first 15 pupils at the Yehudi Menuhin School where Nadia Boulanger had a strong influence on the musical education. During school holidays, Jonathan was taught composition by Lennox Berkeley and on leaving school continued piano lessons with Cimbro Martin. He regularly attended Dartington Summer School, studying with Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle. At the age of 20, Jonathan studied in Paris with Jacques Fevrier and continued work with Nadia Boulanger. He has spent much of his life working in professional theatre, first in London’s West End on musicals such as Annie, and The Sound of Music, which starred Petula Clark, and then at the Royal Shakespeare Company. His compositions include two operas: The Nightingale and the Rose, and The Star Child, two symphonies, a concerto for classical accordion, the song-cycle Behold This Dreamer, My Cat Jeoffry, and a major work for musical saw, violin and soprano An Intake of Breath. His work The Pied Piper of Hamelin has been performed on different occasions by Johnny Morris, Colin Baker, and Patricia Routledge. In Orford church in 2015, Edmond Fivet conducted the Prometheus Orchestra in a performance of his Classical Overture.
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