WORKS: Around the Curve of the World
PERFORMER: Patricia Rozario, Anne Schwanewilms (soprano), Daniel Norman (tenor), Paul Whelan (baritone); Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford University CO/Stephen Darlington
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 225
This cantata, ambitious in scope, celebrates the 150th anniversary of Christchurch and Canterbury in New Zealand. Straightaway, I should say that I do not like it. It deals primarily with the voyage, and with the personalities of John and Robert Godley. The standpoint is exclusively western and Christian and colonial, appallingly self-righteous and self-indulgent. Though I do not question the difficulties of the voyage in those days, the sense that the Godleys and the pair of settlers consider themselves as God’s Chosen Ones journeying to the Promised Land does not engender my instinctive sympathy. Their homesickness is suffocatingly insistent. The music, set to a combination of liturgical texts and words by Sue Mayo, is a mixture of insipid free-rhythmed tunes – rather like those saccharine psalm settings by someone called Joseph Gelineau that we used to sing – and a more direct and dramatic language, well enough executed, that recalls Britten. At times the word-setting seems laboured, not what one would expect from a man billed as ‘one of Britain’s leading composers’. Sorry.
The live recording of the premiere sounds well, and the singers – particularly the sopranos Patricia Rozario and Anne Schwanewilms – give committed, finely inflected performances under Stephen Darlington, while the Christ Church Cathedral Choir and the Oxford University Chamber Orchestra turn in a thoroughly professional piece of work. But while in the mid-20th century, Copland could still get away with it, in the year 2000 there is no excuse for a composer and librettist to fail – even in a celebratory work – to consider the basic moral issue of settling in someone else’s land without so much as a by-your-leave. Stephen Pettitt