Pietà; Canticle of Winter
Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Stephen Gadd (baritone), Amy Dickson (saxophone); Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Gavin Carr
Nimbus Alliance NI 6396 47.30 mins
Richard Blackford’s Pietà is a Stabat Mater, not with all of the 13th-century Latin text, but including a couple of settings of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. The 40-minute piece is scored for mezzo and baritone soloists – both Jennifer Johnston and Stephen Gadd are powerfully expressive – plus the equally fine soprano saxophonist Amy Dickson, the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and the strings of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, all capably led by Gavin Carr. Though Blackford’s musical ideas may possess little originality or individuality, everything he writes is skilful and effective, often with an emotional charge, as in the opening section. The uncertain, halting progress to the fifth movement, with its use of children’s chorus, is curiously touching; the saxophone obbligato, which throughout acts as a kind of counterpoint to the vocal soloists or to the chorus, gives the music heightened potency.
Even more successful is the atmospheric, six-minute Canticle of Winter, inspired by a Robert Frost poem, scored for saxophone and strings, which perfectly represents ‘the sense of restlessness, of something unresolved’ described by the composer in his programme note.