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Jonathan Dove: The Passing Of The Year

Dove / Convivium Singers / Cromar / Ferris
Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572733   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

There’s a moment in the James Bond film Goldfinger when M asks Bond, “What do you know about gold?” and Bond answers simply “I know it when I see it.” This came only a few months after Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously used a similar phrase to describe his threshold test for pornography. I thought of this as I was about to describe the music on this program of choral works by English composer Jonathan Dove with the term “accessible”: what makes a piece of music “accessible” may be impossible to define in a universal way, but “I know it when I hear it.” And this music is not only refreshingly new, and modern, but also absolutely accessible (you’ll know when you hear it). Its solid roots in the tonal and melodic as opposed to the Read more atonal and tuneless world certainly has a lot to do with it; but there’s much more happening here.

It doesn’t take long to appreciate Dove’s way with a text, and his facility with vocal writing. Tackling a text such as Who killed Cock Robin? and successfully casting it musically takes some real finesse, and Dove not only vividly depicts the story but creates a superb piece of “choral theatre” that will keep you riveted until the final “bell toll”. The opening song cycle, The Passing of the Year, for double chorus and piano, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s mother, is remarkable both for the variety of musical ideas (always absolutely “right” as double-choir conceptions), and for the musical coherence from beginning to end of the set of seven thematically related poems (authored by Blake, Dickinson, Tennyson, and a couple of others).

As seems typical of Dove’s work in general, there’s a strong appreciation for melody, but the melodic themes are carefully and intelligently woven into the textural fabric, which is always richly colored with all possible variants available from the tonal palette. Dissonances and tonally ambiguous passages are integral, never gratuitous nor inserted merely for “difficulty’s” sake, as is the case with much modern choral music. Dissonance is effectively employed, along with exciting rhythmic figuration in pieces such as It sounded as if the streets were running and the pleasingly Britten-esque How happy is the little Stone (both part of a set of three songs to Emily Dickinson poems).

The confluence of imaginative harmonic ideas and engaging melody is artfully displayed in the opening minute of Wellcome, all Wonders in one sight!; but the delight in a melodic idea can become a bit excessive, as in the endlessly repeated six-note theme of In Beauty May I Walk. There’s an occasional stylistic reminder of an Arvo Pärt (The Passing of the Year’s “Adieu! farewell earth’s bliss”) or Eric Whitacre (I am the day, which cleverly works in references to the Advent chant “O come, O come Emmanuel”), but Jonathan Dove is unquestionably a composer with his own view of the choral music world and, especially in relation to Whitacre, his music possesses a more profound stylistic integrity that’s essential to enduring legitimacy and longevity.

Interestingly, one of the program’s highlights is not a choral piece at all, but a work for solo mezzo-soprano, My love is mine (text from the Song of Songs). Felicity Turner, a member of the Convivium Singers, will astonish you with the clarity, agility, and expressiveness with which she sings this difficult four-minute piece, a marvel of pure, unaffected technique and absolutely spot-on intonation. Dove is fortunate to have the advocacy of such a first-rate ensemble as the Convivium Singers and director Neil Ferris, and we are equally lucky to have the benefit of this excellent recording that captures the choir in the realistic setting of a London church. Highly recommended.

-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

Gorgeous and poignant music, performed with wholehearted fervor by an excellent choir.

This will turn out to be, I am sure, one of my favorite recordings of 2012. I first came upon Jonathan Dove’s music on a Hyperion recording of his sacred music, featuring the Wells Cathedral Choir, conducted by Matthew Owens (2010). Over the last year I have occasionally returned to that CD, each time coming away more impressed by Dove’s writing. This new CD has only confirmed and strengthened that impression.

The recording opens with The Passing of the Year, a song-cycle written for double chorus and piano, dedicated in memory of Dove’s mother. The work, which is made up of seven movements divided into three main sections, takes the listener literally and metaphorically through changing seasons. Thankfully, Naxos does not follow its increasingly common practice of making the listener go to its website to search out the texts though they can be found here. Listening with the poetry at hand only increased my admiration for Dove’s sensitive text setting.

The work opens with Invocation, the voices repeatedly singing “O Earth, return!” with an ever increasing intensity. This leads into an extended setting of William Blake’s The narrow bud opens her beauties to the sun, that features contrasting textures of soloist versus choir and high versus low voice to convey the idea of “Summer breaking forth.” The third movement sets Emily Dickinson’s Answer July as a call and response between female and male voices that perfectly captures the playfulness of the text. Movement 4 begins the second section begins with Hot Sun, cool fire, a setting of words by George Peele that uses slowly shifting dissonant chords to evoke how difficult it can be to breathe, let alone move, on a brutally hot summer day. The cycle’s emotional climax is found in Movement 6, a setting of Thomas Nashe’s Adieu! Farewell earth’s bliss. Over an ostinato that bares a passing resemblance to the final minutes of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, one of the choirs intones “Lord, have mercy on us,” as the other choir sings, in achingly beautiful harmonies, about the inevitability of death.

Three times these competing choral textures break off so that all voices can join together in singing “I am sick, I must die”. Even after listening several times, Dove’s setting leaves me shaken. The sadness of that movement is effectively dispelled by the final Ring out, wild bells, a passage from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam that speaks of the promises found in the beginning of a New Year.

The rest of the program is just as impressive as the Song Cycle, and displays a greater variety of musical styles, including a solo for mezzo-soprano (My love is mine), three songs for upper voice/women’s choir (It sounded as if the streets were running). The CD is rounded out with Advent and Christmas music, including The Three Kings, written for Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge.

Dove’s music is impressive, with attractive melodies and tonal harmonic writing. Nevertheless, he is not afraid to use dissonance when it more strongly projects and expresses the text, and his writing displays a particularly strong skill in creating onomatopoeic effects. When I began my listening, I thought it would be helpful to note where Dove’s writing seemed reminiscent of other composers’ work. Sometimes the piano writing, which often uses ostinato figures, reminds me of the minimalists Steven Reich and John Adams. A few of Dove’s melodies soar in a way that recalls Samuel Barber. Answer July brings thoughts of Benjamin Britten’s “Ballad of the Green Broom” from Five Flower Songs. I share these comments not to suggest that Dove is in any way a derivative composer, but rather to express how highly I rate his work. Dove is very much his own man, with masterly word setting that reminds me most strongly of Benjamin Britten and, on this side of the Atlantic, Libby Larsen.

Dove receives the strongest advocacy from his performers. The Convivium Singers, under the assured direction of Neil Ferris, display admirable control of the long line and excellent intonation. I find the balance to be a bit dominated by the women’s voices, and would not have minded a few more men in each section. But the balance never detracted from my immense enjoyment of this recording. Accompanist Christopher Cromar’s playing is splendid, self-effacing virtuosity that serves the choir and the music.

I urge you to purchase this CD as quickly as possible. It is gorgeous and poignant music, performed with wholehearted fervor by an excellent choir, all at budget price.

– David A. McConnell, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
The Passing of the Year by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
Period: 20th Century 
2.
Welcome, all wonders in one sight by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
3.
The three Kings by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 2005; England 
4.
In beauty may I walk by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
5.
My Love is Mine by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
6.
Who Killed Cock Robin by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
7.
It sounded as if the Streets were running by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium
8.
I am the day by Jonathan Dove
Performer:  Christopher Cromar (Organ)
Conductor:  Neil Ferris
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Convivium

Sound Samples

The Passing of the Year: No. 1. Invocation
The Passing of the Year: No. 2. The narrow bud opens her beauties to the sun
The Passing of the Year: No. 3. Answer July
The Passing of the Year: No. 4. Hot sun, cool fire
The Passing of the Year: No. 5. Ah, Sun-flower!
The Passing of the Year: No. 6. Adieu! farewell earth's bliss!
The Passing of the Year: No. 7. Ring out, wild bells
In Beauty May I Walk
My Love is Mine
Who Killed Cock Robin
It sounded as if the Streets were running: No. 1.
It sounded as if the Streets were running: No. 2. I saw no way
It sounded as if the Streets were running: No. 3. How happy is the little Stone
I am the Day
Wellcome all Wonders in one Sight!
The Three Kings

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 The Passing of the Year - a Review March 30, 2012 By L. Torrence (Matthews, NC) See All My Reviews "This recording is a well-done example of Jonathan Dove's music. The chorus is outstanding and the numbers on this recording illustrate a wide variety Dove's choral works. In my opinion Dove is one of a handful of 20th and 21st century composers that can write choral music worth performing." Report Abuse
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