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Leighton: Orchestral Works Vol 2 / Hickox, Fox, Bbc National Orchesta Of Wales, Et Al

Release Date: 11/18/2008 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10495   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Kenneth Leighton
Performer:  Sarah FoxGareth Rhys-Davies
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Chorus of WalesBBC National Orchestra of Wales
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LEIGHTON Symphony No. 2, “Sinfonia mistica.” Te Deum laudamus Richard Hickox, cond; Sarah Fox (sop); BBC Natl O & Ch of Wales CHANDOS 10495 (57:28)

This is designated as Volume 2 in the orchestral works of English composer Kenneth Leighton (1929–1988). Volume 1 (Chandos 10461), which contained the composer’s Symphony for Strings, Organ Concerto, and Concerto for String Orchestra, was reviewed by Paul A. Snook as recently as 32:2, earning a Read more positive nod and a wish that future volumes would offer the three piano concertos and three of the four numbered symphonies not yet recorded. Half of that wish is granted with this second release in the series, for it does in fact feature Leighton’s 1974 Symphony No. 2 for soprano, chorus, and orchestra, subtitled “Sinfonia mistica.” The short filler is the 1964 Te Deum laudamus , orchestrated in 1966, and written for soprano solo or semi-chorus, chorus, and orchestra.

Leighton’s pre-1951 compositional efforts were heavily weighted towards choral works, stemming from his years at Oxford and his ties to the Anglican Church. His early style, fit for the music he was writing at the time, tended toward the pastoral tradition passed down through Vaughan Williams, Gurney, Holst, and Finzi. But all of that was to change when, in 1951, Leighton left Oxford to take up studies with the Italian modernist Goffredo Petrassi in Rome. Leighton’s post-Petrassi period is marked by a turn towards sharper dissonance, linear angularity, non-specific tonality, biting, brittle, pungent, percussive orchestration, and a musical din not calculated to please those order-enforcing Oxford beadles.

The Symphony No. 2 is essentially a requiem for Leighton’s mother. As such, it is appropriately dark and gloomy; but it is also angry, disquieting, and deeply unsettling, evoking writhing images of agony and uncomforting images of death as expressed in poems by John Donne, Thomas Traherne, Henry King, and a number of anonymous medieval authors. At over 48 minutes, this is a major work, and it contains a good deal of music that I find scary, not in a creepy, crawly way, but in a way that really cuts to the bone and penetrates my core being. Leighton’s “Sinfonia mistica” is guaranteed to shake and shatter you. There are passages in this score that not only reflect Petrassi’s influence on Leighton, but that anticipate choral-orchestral works by Penderecki and Gubaidulina. The performance is stunning, the recording will blow you away, and Sarah Fox’s soprano will go through you like a hot knife through butter.

The liturgically based Te Deum laudamus employs similar techniques of orchestration and choral writing, but its content is upbeat and its style somewhat more conservatively suited, I should think, to modern day church concert performance. Though perhaps a bit more adventurous harmonically and in scoring, the piece strikes me as following in the tradition of a work such as Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb.

This is a must-have addition to any serious collection. I cannot recommend it too highly. More Leighton from Hickox and Chandos, please.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2, Op. 69 "Sinfonia mistica" by Kenneth Leighton
Performer:  Sarah Fox (Soprano)
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Chorus of Wales,  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Notes: Composition written: 1973 - 1974. 
Te Deum laudamus by Kenneth Leighton
Performer:  Gareth Rhys-Davies (Baritone)
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Chorus of Wales,  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964/1966 

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