WORKS: The Passion of St Thomas More
PERFORMER: Anna Vinten-Johansen, Christina Högman (soprano), Olle Persson (baritone), Taina Karr (cor anglais), Sven Åberg (guitar), Garrett Fisher (Indian harmonium), Göran Månsson (percussion)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1158
Garrett Fisher is a Seattle-based composer in his early thirties. His work has won many awards, but judging from this, I cannot think why. He confesses himself inspired by ritual, attracted to stylised theatrical forms. With each work, he says, he invites the audience to experience a rite of passage that is supposed to carry it to a new level of awareness. The Passion of St Thomas More is based on a single melodic fragment that develops and expands during the course of the drama. The original production included a dancer who silently narrated and led the three main characters – More (sung by a soprano, here Anna Vinten-Johansen), Henry VIII (Olle Persson) and More’s daughter Margaret (Christina Högman) – on and off the stage in procession.
I have no problems with the work’s quasi-medieval, quasi-pastoral, quasi-oriental approach, nor with its minimalist, easy-listening language. But the ideas – heard over a droning E – seem wooden and characterless, the words, also by Fisher, often laughably banal. Odd, too, that Henry and Margaret both require the visiting Angel to translate the benediction and declaration from the Latin, a language with which they would surely have been thoroughly au fait. Only the things that Fisher plucks from other sources – William Carlos Williams’s song ‘El hombre’, a text by one of the Trobairitz (female troubadours), a traditional Norwegian song, offer any saving grace. Performances are reasonable, the recording claustrophobically close. Stephen Pettitt