Frances-Hoad: One Life Stand; There is no Rose; Don’t; Psalm 1; You promised me everything last night; Nunc dimittis; Beowulf

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Frances-Hoad
LABELS: Champs Hill
WORKS: One Life Stand; There is no Rose; Don’t; Psalm 1; You promised me everything last night; Nunc dimittis; Beowulf
PERFORMER: Rose Wilson-Haffenden, Natalie Raybould, Jane Manning (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Robert Manasse (piccolo), Sue Gill (bass clarinet), James Young, Joseph Middleton, Alisdair Hogarth (piano); Gonville and Caius College Choir/Geoffrey Webber; Nicholas Lee (organ
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD 057

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Someone should commission a music theatre piece from Cheryl Frances-Hoad: this disc reveals a dramatic instinct straining at the leash. From the supple assurance of There is no Rose, composed at just 14, to the very funny Don’t to the austerely epic Beowulf (2012), Frances-Hoad’s work shows a keen instinct for text-setting within a fundamentally conventional, but often surprising, harmonic world.

Her Psalm 1 for Gonville and Caius choir with organ is particularly striking. Beginning with luminous poise, high melismas reaching skyward over a stable organ chord, its harmonies intensify and darken as she sets conflict among the ‘ungodly’ voices, who swoop, crash and eventually scream over an eery organ as its power is running down.

Mezzo Jennifer Johnston is a superb advocate, the glossy depth of her voice matched by the spirited intelligence of her musicality. Best of all is One Life Stand, a cycle of poems by Sophie Hannah, which follows a girl from dating to bereavement. Voice and piano are combined in all manner of inventive ways and it packs a hefty emotional punch. Her Beowulf, in the tradition of Satie’s Socrates, is starker but a fine showcase for Johnston’s formidable range.

Jane Manning gives a priceless performance of Frances-Hoad’s 70th birthday gift, a witty homage compiled from the ludicrous Dont’s for Wives (1913). Dark humour also propels the daring outcry You Promised Me Everything, for high soprano, but it needs finer control than Natalie Raybould gives here.

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Helen Wallace