Saxton: Caritas; Violin Concerto; In the Beginning; I Will Awake the Dawn; Music to Celebrate the Resurrection

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COMPOSERS: Saxton
LABELS: NMC Ancora
WORKS: Caritas; Violin Concerto; In the Beginning; I Will Awake the Dawn; Music to Celebrate the Resurrection
PERFORMER: Vocal soloists, Tasmin Little (violin); English Northern Philharmonia/Diego Masson, BBC Singers/John Poole, BBC SO/Matthias Bamert, ECO/Steuart Bedford
CATALOGUE NO: D 102
These recordings first appeared about ten years ago as two separate releases on the much missed Collins Classics; brought together in NMC’s Ancora series, they make a neat survey of Robert Saxton’s development in the late 1980s. The major work here is Saxton’s compact two-act opera Caritas from 1991, to a libretto by Arnold Wesker based on his own play about a reluctant anchoress in 14th-century Norfolk. As always with Saxton the music is beautifully crafted, with finely drawn instrumental detail and vocal writing, especially that for the main character Christine, that packs a real emotional punch. But the shape is less convincing dramatically and the alternation of scenes depicting Christine in her living tomb and those of the world outside seems a bit contrived; the performance (a clean, live recording from the original Opera North production) with a cast headed by Eirian Davies is surefooted and taut.The other disc contains a mixture of orchestral and choral pieces, all exploring the same idea – that of a musical progression from darkness into light. It’s most starkly and strikingly realised in Music to Celebrate the Resurrection, written for an Easter TV documentary in 1988, while the unaccompanied I Will Awake the Dawn from the previous year traces a similar trajectory in settings of Old Testament texts. The Violin Concerto (1990) is a bit less convincing, for its busy invention never quite dispels the suspicion of note-spinning in the solo part, even though its played with clarity and incisiveness by Tasmin Little. Andrew Clements

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