AFICIONADOS of amateur choral singing in London will know of the Revd Ronald
Corp's work as a choral conductor on the musical scene of the capital for the
past two decades. His recordings on the Hyperion label of rare British music
have also won him wider acclaim.
He is himself a composer, whose output includes not just a piano concerto,
but many works for chorus. In particular, following on from his achievements
with the New London Children's Chorus, there is a body of sacred music, and a
clutch of thoroughly enjoyable works that include a children's chorus.
One of his most recent choral pieces is a setting of Matthew Arnold's
Dover Beach, composed for the BBC Singers. It was their voices that
added the icing to the cake of a markedly successful concert in Wells Cathedral
last month, for which the orchestra comprised members of the New London
Orchestra and the orchestra of Wells Cathedral School.
It featured Waters of Time, his new large-scale cantata. It is
based on events relating to Somerset and Wells: Corp's family connection with
the city dates back to before the 1950s, when he was born there at 1 Cathedral
You might think a cantata relating to so specific a location would have
local interest, but not travel well. This was certainly a performance on home
ground, and a celebration of place. Yet this is an exciting, galvanising new
work, with self-evident merits that make its appeal potentially much wider. The
events delightfully evoked or alluded to in the imaginative, even flamboyant,
text by Marilyn Floyde would be no less absorbing outside Somerset than the
story of (say) Robin Hood would be beyond the confines of Nottinghamshire.
Some half a dozen of the short (and even some of the extended) sections for
the youngest, primary-school-age children are gems, such as a clever setting of
"The Witch of Wookey Hole", which the librettist has based directly - like
several other passages in the text - on the misericord carvings of Wells
These sections would make glorious concert items on their own, as three- to
five-minute songs, with orchestral or keyboard accompaniment. "Bishop Jocelyn
and the Wyvern" is another. (The Bishop wins the struggle, and the hapless
dragon breathes its last.)
The music is intelligently written. I found the libretto, and possibly the
music, marginally cloying in just two places (unstrategically placed near the
start and the end). The rest - especially the picturesque anecdotal and
narrative sections, including a lively drinking song for the men's chorus, and
a vivid sequence relating to the Battle of Sedgemoor - seemed to gauge pace
perfectly, especially in this vital performance, and to use a kind of language,
both musical and literal, with which older and younger singers feel utterly at
Much of the time there's a natural, even nursery-rhyme-like, poetic quality
to the words: they're spirited and fun. Time and again, the music catches the
rhythms perfectly, ingeniously geared to a large choir of varied ability,
which, old and young alike, served up a performance full not only of zest, but
also of musical acumen, under the composer's baton.
This event was deft, varied, and brilliant, as the director of Somerset
Music, Graham Bland, had hoped it would be. I had one or two minor cavils about
the design of the work: one or two bars towards the end might conceivably be
excised or tweaked to advantage. But it sang itself. I should like to hear more
of Ronald Corp's music.