LABELS: Silva Screen
WORKS: The Company of Heaven
PERFORMER: Fiona Shaw, Jonathan Pryce (speakers), Jennifer Maybee, Charlotte Kinder (soprano), Harry Nicoll (tenor), Graeme Danby (baritone); Crouch End Festival Chorus, National Sinfonia/David Temple
CATALOGUE NO: SILKD 6021
Commissioned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Jarrow March, The Burning Road (1996), a 35-minute cantata for soprano, baritone, orchestra and chorus is ambitious in its scale – a massive, swirling wall of voices, brass and percussion – if not its style. Will Todd’s writing is lyrical, accessible, and might, for all its aggressive timpani, have been composed at the time of the march. It would be easy to dismiss the contrivances of its text (how many words can you think of that rhyme with Jarrow?). But its heart is in the right place, and with its litany of the towns the march passed through, and the roll-call of the marchers’ names, the enduring effect of this impassioned performance is moving, even inspiring.
Britten’s early cantata The Company of Heaven (1937), commissioned by the BBC as a religious broadcast for Michaelmas Day is less convincing, however inventive its incidental music. According to his biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, Britten was ‘bored’ by the project, and scored some of it while listening to a Prom on the radio. Much of it is speech, though there are also sung texts by Emily Brontë, Bunyan, Blake and the Bible, and it ends with a chorus based on the familiar hymn tune ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’. Claire Wrathall