David Owen Norris: Prayerbook

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: David Owen Norris
LABELS: The English Music Festival
ALBUM TITLE: David Owen Norris: Prayerbook
WORKS: Prayerbook
PERFORMER: Peter Savidge (baritone); David Coram (organ); Navarra String Quartet; Over The Bridge; The Choristers of New College, Oxford; The Waynflete Singers/David Owen Norris
CATALOGUE NO: EMRCD010

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Prayerbook is billed as ‘an oratorio about tradition and change’, using texts mainly drawn from the Book of Common Prayer. If that sounds rather abstruse and nebulous, it has to be said that David Owen Norris’s setting, though admirably varied in approach, doesn’t entirely dispel the impression that the work’s concerns are somewhat parochial, perhaps even inward-looking.

There are, I think, some simple miscalculations. The mantra ‘I have become involved in many arguments’ in the section ‘Aria: On Miracles’ is repeated obsessively, long outstaying its musical justification. The repetitions of ‘Hail, gladdening light!’ in ‘Calypso’ are also irritating. The most effective writing comes in the a cappella ‘Rubric’, ‘Canon: In heavenly love abiding’ (where tubular bells contribute), and in ‘Interlude – God the Holy Ghost’, interestingly scored for string quartet and organ.

Peter Savidge is a solidly reassuring presence in the baritone solos, though the choral singing is often much less securely founded, particularly in matters of tuning. An esoteric project, with hermetic tendencies, this is difficult to recommend for general consumption.

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Terry Blain