*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Green thoughts

by
25 April 2014

Roderic Dunnett hears a new choral work

iStock

FEW experiences are more delightfully raw and bracing than hearing a massed community choir - some of its members unauditioned - gathered in the nave to test its lungs in singing a new work, whose very massiveness of concept and broad musical sweep test a cathedral acoustic to its limits.

All the more so when the thunderous musical onslaught at Winchester Cathedral included a flood of young primary-school children, 170 or more, many experiencing such a building for the first time, and responding with vigour and audible excitement.

The Great Turning is the Revd June Boyce-Tillman's vital, even explosive, new work for large forces: a passionate response to the green issues addressed in a new book or collection, Stories of the Great Turning, featuring artworks and new prose writing, just published by Vala Publishers.

Both look at ordinary people who have had the courage to attempt to change their often selfish, indifferent, grasping, money-obsessed surroundings, proclaiming alternative Christian-rooted values of consideration for others, love of the environment, and putting others less fortunate first.

It's not exactly a new idea, rather an affirmation. Nor does the quality of either words or music necessarily matter so much as the excited sense of event, the feeling that singing may inspire to action, and change attitudes. Perhaps even, here (I could suggest), that musical proclamation may carry with it the power of prayer, and by its very incantations wave a magic wand.

A Boyce-Tillman score is by no means inhibited. Time and again she packs a punch, with orchestration (plenty of fine percussion and quite superb brass from the Southern Sinfonia) that gets you in the solar plexus. It's in part a credit to her conducting - vigorous, characterful, holding back nothing. The strings had their moments later - one superb solo for the leader, then a duet for the first two violins - that lent beauty, atmosphere, and contrast.

I liked the start almost most of all. Her Overture is magnificent and substantial - and, over it, the children are introduced as a vast unvoiced twittering chorus concealed at the east end. The effect is miraculous, a kind of unexpected glimpse of 1960s modernism, which also occasionally surfaces in her inventive harmonisations; just as the opening resonant cymbal booms might be a blast from Berio or Xenakis.

The work is a joyous mixed bag, embracing a clutch of hymns and songs, and some new words - set to the Londonderry Air - providing a thrilling massed conclusion. "The Tree Song", a Hampshire folksong collected by John Gardner, is a wonderful choice for children: "And from that seed there grew a tree, And as fine a tree as you ever didsee. . ."; it also anticipates early on a main motif of the work: that from tiny seedlings great things can derive, and yield great and good works that may change the world.

That image is attractively brought out in the dozen-or-so movements, many of them spliced by tight attacca or hauntingly linked by wan solos (a wondrous flute, sonorous trombone, lonely side drum or tympanum).

Perhaps inevitably, some of the texts feel a little simplistic, so that one might have reservations about asking even (or particularly) the young to sing them. Yet everything they touched with their voices was a blazing success. The children, from eight schools, fabulously well rehearsed, possibly outshone the adults, who did jolly well, too.

Occasionally the fresh text matched the undying quality of folksong. "Rural Idyll", by Celia Sousek and Sarah Morgan ("winter closing, cooling, clouding, Starlings flocking cloud the light. . .") is so skilfully set by Boyce-Tillman that you hear a glorious meshing of words and music. The soprano and violin soli launching "A dark time of uncertainty" were spectacularly beautiful; the scherzo "Rush hour" worked well, but the song "Economic Growth" less so, not because the catchy music didn't bustle, but because the chief verbal conceit ("stuff") seemed oddly outdated.

The concert's first half cleverly anticipated several features of the main work: a use of negro spiritual, a like verbal imagery, and so on. The opening piece, "Wade in the Water", was sung in an inspired performance by the Castle Singers. But nothing could match the vocal- and choral-studies students from Winchester University, whose plangent piano delivery of Bruckner's motet Ave Maria was unmatched. The music comes close to Liszt, another priest-composer who placed manifold gifts at the service of Church and concert hall alike.

www.valapublishers.coop

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available

 

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)