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Corp: And All The Trumpets Sounded; Hurd: Shepherd's Calender

Hurd / Stone / Bournemouth Sym Orch / Corp
Release Date: 01/10/2012 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 7280  
Composer:  Ronald CorpMichael Hurd
Performer:  Mark StoneRoderick Williams
Conductor:  Ronald Corp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony OrchestraLondon ChorusNew London Children's Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CORP And All the Trumpets Sounded 1. HURD The Shepherd’s Calendar 2 Ronald Corp, cond; 1 Mark Stone, 2 Roderick Williams (bar); London Ch; New London Children’s Ch; Bournemouth SO DUTTON CDLX 7280 (69:01)

Prior to receiving this release, I was completely unfamiliar with Read more either Ronald Corp or Michael Hurd as contemporary English composers. Having listened to it, I am most grateful to have that ignorance alleviated; this is first-class music of a sort sorely needed, and I will now certainly investigate other works by both gentlemen.

Ronald Corp (b.1951) is a priest in the Church of England, composer, founder and conductor of both the New London Orchestra and the New London’s Children’s Choir, and author of a widely used textbook on choral singing. At present I can locate seven CDs in print of his music, all conducted by the composer himself, on the Dutton, Naxos, and Stone Records labels. (The last-named label is self-produced by baritone Mark Stone, the featured soloist here in Corp’s opus.) He has also conducted more than two dozen recordings of works by other composers—mostly British light music and operettas—for the Dutton, Naxos, and Hyperion labels. His conducting has won almost uniformly favorable reviews in these pages; the response to his compositions has been more diffident, though Philip Scott in 33:6 applauded his Symphony No. 1 and Guernsey Postcards (albeit not the accompanying Piano Concerto).

In the composer’s own words, And All the Trumpets Sounded “was intended as a companion piece for Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem . … The work also reminds us of Britten’s towering War Requiem .” The texts are taken from the 13th-century chant Dies irae , Walt Whitman, and a roster of poets who all died in service during World War I—Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Charles Hamilton Sorley, and of course Wilfred Owen—whose verses, mostly given to the solo baritone, punctuate the Latin hymn text sung by the chorus.

The piece opens with thundering timpani blows and martial trumpet fanfares that recall the initial bars of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, while the initial choral entrance in the Dies irae text briefly brings to mind Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana . These motifs recur periodically throughout the work. Beginning with the first entrance of the solo baritone at Thomas’s “The Trumpet,” the musical vocabulary assumes a gentler, more lyrical cast more akin to Vaughan Williams, though still backed by now distant trumpet fanfares. The following Tuba mirum is properly tumultuous; the baritone and distant trumpets return in Brooke’s “The Dead,” now backed by a women’s choir. This flows seamlessly into Whitman’s “Vigil Strange,” set for solo baritone with harmonic touches that recall Herbert Howells. Renewed dissonant fanfares and loud choral cries open the Rex tremendae , succeeded by an animated baritone solo setting of Sorley’s “Such, Such Is Death,” with skipping dotted eighth-note rhythm. Next comes the choral Lacrimosa , followed by a Pie Jesu scored for children’s choir, which leads into the final baritone solo, Owen’s “Asleep (Under His Helmet),”with a repeated musical phrase that resembles the powerful, dark, five-note poker game motif from act II of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

From the first bar to the last this is a moving, powerful piece in an impassioned performance. Corp is in complete command of his performers; the choral forces could not be better, and his children’s choir in particular truly outdoes itself. Baritone Mark Stone has a voice that is not always ideally supported and his vibrato is sometimes a bit unsteady when pressed, but he is a vivid interpreter of his texts.

Michael John Hurd (1928–2006), a pupil of Lennox Berkeley, is primarily known as a musicologist, particularly for his biography of Ivor Gurney. His relatively few compositions, the best-known being several jazz-style “pop cantatas,” are mostly penned in a popular-music vein. The present work is a welcome exception; it is composed unabashedly in the style of Vaughan Williams, both in its sturdy Englishness and its French Impressionist influences, and the early 20th-century English pastoralists. The text is a selection of verses from The Shepherd’s Calendar , a collection of poems by John Clare, who enjoyed brief fame before a prolonged descent into mental illness. The overall theme is a celebration of the innocence and virtues of rural life, and sorrow at their loss.

Is Hurd’s musical voice original? No; but then, the pursuit of originality as an end in itself—the Drang nach Neuheit (impetus to novelty), in the apt term of historian Roland Stromberg, that became a hallmark obsession of the 20th century—has proven to be an incredibly pernicious and destructive impulse. Gustav Mahler was once asked what he thought of a newly premiered piece of music. “It’s interesting” he said, but then added, “It’s very easy to be interesting; it’s very difficult to be good.” Exactly; the truly creative artist concerns himself primarily with producing something that is good—which, among other things, means building organically upon rather than merely rejecting one’s predecessors—and trust that originality (and being interesting) will take care of itself. Consequently, there is a great difference between mere cheap, false copying or plagiarism, and a humbly unassuming, true imitation characterized by faithfulness to what is recognized as good. The Shepherd’s Calendar is an excellent example of the latter, and contains pages of surpassing beauty that a master such as Vaughan Williams would be proud to acknowledge as his own. The performance again is splendid, and this time has the advantage of baritone Roderick Williams, a singer of beguiling voice and penetrating interpretive skills who has rightly risen to the forefront of the English musical scene.

Texts are not printed in the booklet, but can be downloaded from Dutton’s website, and as always the label’s recorded sound is top-notch. If you love 20th-century English choral music, put this disc at the forefront of your planned acquisitions; it has my unqualified and enthusiastic recommendation, and is at least an outside candidate for the 2012 Want List.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

And All the Trumpets Sounded by Ronald Corp
Performer:  Mark Stone (Baritone)
Conductor:  Ronald Corp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra,  London Chorus,  New London Children's Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989 
The Shepherd's Calender by Michael Hurd
Performer:  Roderick Williams (Baritone)
Conductor:  Ronald Corp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra,  London Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975 

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