COMPOSERS: Bernard Stevens
WORKS: The Shadow of the Glen; The True Dark
PERFORMER: Della Jones, John Gibbs, Paul Hudson, Neil Mackie, Richard Jackson; Igor Kennaway (piano), Divertimenti Orchestra/Howard Williams
CATALOGUE NO: TROY 418
Like Vaughan Williams’s Riders to the Sea, The Shadow of the Glen is based on a play by the late 19th-century Irish author JM Synge. The two works share similar preoccupations, in particular a profound identification with the impoverished economic circumstances of Irish peasantry set against the background of a harsh and sometimes bleak landscape. This characteristic is manifest in Bernard Stevens’s opera through the spare chamber-like textures of the orchestra and the tightly knit thematic material, much of which is derived from the famous Dies irae plainsong – a highly appropriate allusion given that the story is centred around a husband feigning his death in order to test his wife’s fidelity.
Although Stevens’s opera has yet to receive its first staging, this excellent and vividly dramatic recording of the first BBC broadcast performance in 1983 provides eloquent testimony to the composer’s fluid and highly expressive vocal writing – qualities that are also much in evidence in the 1974 song cycle The True Dark. This brooding and sometimes disturbing work boasts particularly fine and sensitive piano-playing from Igor Kennaway, though the baritone Richard Jackson could have worked even harder to effect the wide dynamic range and sustained lyrical lines which are suggested in many sections of the score. Erik Levi