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Corp: Songs Of The Elder Sister / Evans, Castle, Carter, Thurlow, Bolt

Release Date: 03/11/2014 
Label:  Stone Records   Catalog #: 8036   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ronald Corp
Performer:  Jill CarterSarah ThurlowRachel Bolt
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CORP Songs of the Elder Sisters Sarah Castle (mez); Samuel Davies (bar); Jill Carter (alto fl); Sarah Thurlow (cl); Rachel Bolt (va) STONE 30029 (69:47)

The texts of this beautiful piece, from the Therigatha , are contemporaneous with the lifetime of the Buddha. All were written by women who had renounced their homes and families to join a female group founded by the Buddha himself, and focus on loss (of possessions and the suchlike when one renounces Read more society and materialism for the spiritual path). The booklet states that “they also form the only canonical work in any religion written entirely by women.” The translations heard here are from the Pali by Frances Booth. The themes explored are: lost beauty; grieving mothers; a woman freed; the temptations of Mara, the evil one; seduction.

A fragile Prelude sets the scene. Corp’s writing is astonishingly beautiful and delicate, rooted in tonality and preternaturally aware of the beauty of the simultaneities he utilizes. The scoring is itself intimate: mezzo, baritone, alto flute, clarinet, and viola. This mood is to dominate the whole experience, as all three instruments are by nature of soft timbre. Sarah Castle is a superb singer, whose sincere delivery, excellent sense of pitch, and smooth legato, all coupled with her clear resonance with both music and texts, make her seem the ideal interpreter.

Interlude 1 features solo viola, a plaintive lament given with real feeling by Rachel Bolt. Perhaps, though, it is the three heartfelt songs of the second part (“Grieving Mothers”) that are most impressive. The most active music comes in the third part, “A woman freed.” Certainly the first item “Punna’s Song,” is energetic but brief, making the contrast with the ensuing “Mutta’s Song” all the more effective. The spiky woodwind of “Khema’s Song” offer another rare example of faster music (here to reflect the text, “My body only fills me with disgust”).

Samuel Evans only appears in the fourth and fifth parts. He sings with great clarity. There are no artist biographies in the booklet, a shame as both vocal soloists are of the first rank. Evans appears as Mara (the Evil One) in the fourth, his contributions perfectly judged, his diction a model of its kind. The fifth part (“Seduction”) is the only one to consist of one poem only, “Subha’s Song,” a dialogue between Subha and someone only identified as “The Man.” It is preceded by a lonely flute solo (Interlude 4), which seems part Debussy’s faun and part nod to the world of the shakuhachi. The extended dialogue of the final part ends with The Man attaining some level of insight for the way forward (“Lady, live without desire, now I see my cruel mistake”).

This is not Corp’s only Buddhist work: Dhammapada of 2010 for eight solo singers includes recordings of bells recorded at Buddhist temples. The present work, Songs of the Elder Sisters , deserves close, meditative listening. There is not much in the way of contrast in the traditional sense here, more of a Feldman-like prolongation of quiet music that seems to speak on equal terms with the separating silences. The performances are pretty much beyond criticism. The instrumental contributions are eloquent in the extreme: Sarah Thurlow’s solo (Interlude 3) contains some of the most touching clarinet playing in this reviewer’s experience. In Songs of the Elder Sisters , Corp offers a contemplative space, something to be treasured in a world where faster seems always to be seen as better. Recommended.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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Works on This Recording

Songs of the Elder Sisters, for mezzo-soprano, alto flute, clarinet & viola by Ronald Corp
Performer:  Jill Carter (), Sarah Thurlow (Clarinet), Rachel Bolt (Viola)
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  Saint Alban the Martyr, Holborn, UK 
Length: 65 Minutes 36 Secs. 

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