ALBUM TITLE: Blackford
WORKS: Voices of Exile
PERFORMER: Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Gregory Kunde (tenor), Gerald Finley (baritone); The Bach Choir; New London Children’s Choir; Philharmonia Orchestra/David Hill
CATALOGUE NO: QTZ 2018
To what extent can works written for the concert hall truly confront, reflect, or even atone for the sundry acts of inhumanity that continue to afflict our troubled planet? It’s a question which Richard Blackford has clearly asked himself in composing Voices of Exile, a meditation on the worldwide refugee crisis, and it certainly doesn’t go away in the work’s ‘Prelude’, a dramatically lumpish and melodically anonymous response to the rawest of raw material (poet Tony Harrison’s lines on Auschwitz).
Levels of musical interest rise immediately in Part 1 proper, where a Bengali folksong recorded in Calcutta (the catalyst to the whole project) is overlaid by choral writing and spoken versions of the poem being set. The same technique is later used very effectively in the plangent ‘Macedonia’. The rawness and authenticity of these ethnic samplings (try the hair-raising vocalism of Osman Dugleh at the outset of ‘Somalia’) tends to set the thinness of Blackford’s own musical invention in unflattering contrast – the chorus ‘Kin the Beautiful’, for instance, sounds sub-Waltonian and irritatingly insubstantial.
It’s a perilous artistic task, taking the weight of the world on your shoulders. Despite high levels of commitment from the performers, for my money Voices of Exile doesn’t convincingly manage it. Terry Blain