Nicholas Cleobury conducts Dove’s For an unknown soldier; An airmail letter from Mozart

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COMPOSERS: Jonathan Dove
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Dove
WORKS: For an unknown soldier; An airmail letter from Mozart
PERFORMER: Nicky Spence (tenor), Melvyn Tan (piano); Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir; Oxford Bach Choir; Children’s Choir – The Minster Junior School, Monks Orchard Primary School, Ecclesbourne Primary School; London Mozart Players/Nicholas Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 452

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It is possible to feel that contemporary classical music occasionally takes itself a mite too seriously, and is no fun anymore. Then along comes Jonathan Dove’s An airmail letter from Mozart. Imagining how, in the whirl of modern jet travel, the great composer might have negotiated protracted periods of absence from his beloved Constanze, Dove spins 15 minutes of variations scored for single strings and two horns, on a theme from a Mozart Divertimento. By turns scamperingly hyperactive, tender and skittish, it’s a delightfully endearing portrait of Mozart sketched in a modern accent, and a blast to listen to.

For an unknown soldier tells a different kind of story. Using a selection of texts by Wilfred Owen, Helen Dircks, Ivor Gurney and others, Dove constructs a narrative describing the experience of war, from recruitment through painful separation from loved ones, bloody battlefield and death. While the mechanistic lurch and clamour Dove summons for his intense setting of Isaac Rosenberg’s ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ is in many ways the work’s musical centrepiece, its heart is the yearningly lyrical conflation of ‘Before Action’ and ‘To You in France’, where the harshly different perspectives of men and women in wartime are movingly contrasted.

Conductor Nicholas Cleobury does a sterling job of marshalling the forces, which include a combined children’s choir, and tenor Nicky Spence, whose contributions are memorably plangent.

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Terry Blain