Swayne: Cry

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

PERFORMER: BBC Singers/John Poole
A 76-minute a cappella vision of the seven days of the creation, Cry is regarded as the pivotal work in Giles Swayne’s disparate development. When it first appeared, as the result of a BBC commission in 1979, the score created quite a stir: long before holy simplicity was invented, the writing for 28 solo voices seemed to represent a cunning compromise between the techniques of the avant-garde and Swayne’s desire to write vivid, quickly communicable music. There’s no text, just a rich vocabulary of sounds and isolated phonemes to decorate the seven movements, each of which carries an explicit title — Void—Light—Darkness’ for the opening movement, ‘Creatures of the Air and Water’ for the fifth, and so on.


The score is put together with undeniable skill and panache, but delve beneath the virtuoso surfaces and there doesn’t seem much more to be discovered. On top of a straightforward modal scheme Cry moves with cartoon-like clarity, happily cannibalising all manner of vocal techniques (disconcerting to hear echoes of Stockhausen’s Stimmungin such an extrovert context) to make simply illustrative points. In the end the substance just doesn’t live up to the ambitions Swayne sets himself.


The appearance of the NMC disc is something of a miracle. This fine performance by the BBC Singers was released on LP in 1984, but somewhere between the BBC and the Arts Council the digital master-tape went missing – the version now on CD had to be painstakingly remastered from an analogue copy and, for one movement, from a pristine copy of the black vinyl. The sound is perfectly acceptable and catches Swayne’s exotic sound world very faithfully. Andrew Clements