Howard Blake: The Passion of Mary

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Howard Blake
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: The Passion of Mary; Four Songs of the Nativity
PERFORMER: Patricia Rozario (soprano), Robert William Blake (treble), Richard Edgar-Wilson (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson, (bass-baritone); London Voices; Royal Philharmonic Orch/Howard Blake
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572453

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Now aged 71, Howard Blake has produced a vast body of work in most media and several styles. Of these two choral works, the Four Songs of the Nativity (1990) is his Op. 415, the hour-long Passion of St Mary (2002, revised 2006) his Op. 577. Both are couched in a conservative idiom that owes much to the English tradition of Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi and Benjamin Britten, though without, unfortunately, doing anything with it except reminding
us how good they were.

The Passion tells the familiar story of Jesus from the Annunciation through to the Crucifixion, focusing on Mary’s viewpoint. Patricia Rozario is the tireless soprano soloist, with Richard Edgar-Wilson giving a Peter Pears-like representation of Jesus. What were originally spoken Biblical readings intersperse set-pieces – the Magnificat, the Beatitudes, the Stabat Mater and so on – providing a narrative context. Later set as arioso, these narrative sections are very dull. In between, Blake’s technically skilled writing never comes up with a strong, memorable or original idea.

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The Four Songs, settings of medieval religious poems with macaronic Latin and English texts, are better, their brass accompaniment being particularly effective. But once again the musical material treads extremely familiar territory without discovering anything new. George Hall