Arvo Pärt, Howard Skempton, James MacMillan, Ronald Stevenson & John Hearne, Tom Cunningham: Poetry set to music by Tom Cunningham, Arvo Pärt, James MacMillan, Howard Skempton, Ronald Stevenson & John Hearne

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COMPOSERS: Arvo Pärt,Howard Skempton,James MacMillan,Ronald Stevenson & John Hearne,Tom Cunningham
LABELS: Delphian
WORKS: Poetry set to music by Tom Cunningham, Arvo Pärt, James MacMillan, Howard Skempton, Ronald Stevenson & John Hearne
PERFORMER: Beth Mackay (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Laing-Reilly (organ); Laudibus/Mike Brewer
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34060

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This album is like the curate’s bowl of oatmeal: in parts bland, in parts stodgy, but sometimes delicious and nourishing. It has its roots in a collaboration between composer Tom Cunningham and writer Alexander McCall Smith, who produced the texts for the seven song cycle, Scotland at Night.

Smith has commented ‘Night as a time of quiet and dark has been replaced by…work and activity [while] light pollution…obliterates the stars from our view.’ These brief pieces (the longest is just under three minutes) are designed to reveal places where ‘the magic of night persists’ but both words and music fall rather short of capturing that magic, despite impeccable performances.  My reservations notwithstanding, the cycle was a considerable success, and Cunningham and Smith produced another and, I think, more successful work, this time inspired by five paintings, including Henry Raeburn’s celebrated Skating Minister.

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Subsequently other new and pre-existing works were drawn into the project with the overall theme of Scotland at night. MacMillan’s two pieces, settings of Burns, are attractive but perhaps too respectful, and it is, rather surreally, Pärt’s approach to the Scots bard that most magically captures the spirit of the text, evoking the stern grandeur of the landscape. Barry Witherden