LABELS: Mawson & Wareham
WORKS: St Cuthbert
PERFORMER: Patricia Rozario (soprano), John Hudson (tenor), Graeme Danby (bass); Northern Sinfonia Chorus, Durham Singers, Hallé Choir & Orchestra/ Christopher Austin
CATALOGUE NO: MWM CDSP 56 (distr. 0191 265 9385; www.mwmrecords.co.uk)
Written for the 1,000th anniversary of the Diocese of Durham, Will Todd’s striking oratorio plunders the English choral tradition with Viking-like rapacity. Yet it does so constructively, building an edifice in sound to match the grandeur of the one in vaulted Gothic wherein it was premiered just yards from Cuthbert’s sanctified remains. The composer takes every advantage of the scope his subject offers for music of wind and waves and of the contrast of hosannas and hermitry, artfully fashioned by librettist Ben Dunwell into ten evocative episodes. More scenic than dramatic, they portray the Saint as an equivocal and thoroughly human figure, torn between his twin callings as leader and ascetic.
Brilliantly scored for a big acoustic that is reproduced with fidelity in this studio recording, Todd’s music finds its apotheosis in its closing part: the founding of the cathedral where, to this day, Cuthbert is ‘praying for you still’ in an intersection of time that is always the present. Alive with the spirit of Britten, Elgar, Walton and others, the work could have found no more gifted a conductor than Christopher Austin, who brings his wide knowledge of 20th-century British music and warm rapport with players and singers to create an exemplary performance. Nicholas Williams