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Hawes strikes a note of rapture  

21 April 2017

Roderic Dunnett hears the first recordings of contemporary works

Andrew Berry

Patrick Hawes

Patrick Hawes

PATRICK HAWES gained a warm and enthusiastic following when he was composer-in-residence with Classic FM. His output is rich and varied. He contributed to albums that consistently reached number one in the classical charts. He wrote the Highgrove Suite for the Prince of Wales, has collaborated with Hayley Westenra and Julian Lloyd Webber, and currently with the King’s Singers. His biggest project to date, a War Symphony commemorating the First World War, will have its première at the Royal Albert Hall in 2018.

Hawes is well versed in composing sacred settings: his treatment of the Lord’s Prayer and of the opening of St John’s Gospel (The Word), make ideal preparations for the two substantial new works beautifully recorded on his recently issued Naxos disc (8.573720) by the Elora Singers, of Ontario, who are directed with insight and feeling by Noel Edison.

Hawes explains his newest undertaking, Revelation: “I have always felt drawn to the book of Revelation. Its imagery and powerful messages of salvation and judgement are full of inspiration to the artist. The Beatitudes are . . . more gentle but no less powerful, and Christ’s words of comfort form the perfect partner to the Revelation text. It is my hope that they offer a new way of exploring key sentences from the New Testament.”

Nearly all these pristine items are here recorded for the first time. There is no denying the beauty and immediate allure of Hawes’s writing. He makes expressive use of rich, added-note chords, and attractive clusters, akin to the modern approach of certain Baltic or Polish, as well as English, composers. The result, particularly when enhanced by competent part-writing, a degree of counterpoint, and apt word-setting, can be pleasing and accessible to a wide range of listeners.

The whole of Revelation has considerable attractiveness and appeal. There are nine compact sections. The prologue, “Blessed is the one” (Revelation 1.3), sets the tone for what follows. The mood is enraptured, and the choir’s singing is gorgeously sensitive. By contrast, the music also acquires a dramatic and visionary quality, evoking thunder and lightning (“Coming with the Clouds”, Revelation 4).

The sleeve notes supplied by Andy Berry suggest pertinent descriptions: “a calm and prayerful manner”; “moments of excitement and awe”; “peaceful intimacy”; “pure and devotional”; “jubilant fanfare rhythms”; “an increasing sense of majesty”; “hope and security”; and mention some of the procedures employed: quasi-plainsong lines, choral antiphony, falling choral phrases and dissonant harmonies, return to a single-choir format, and interaction between the two choirs.

A kind of Brittenesque scherzo enlivens “From the Throne”; fine, dramatic canons depict “Fallen is Babylon the Great”; and a fresh, eager urgency “The Marriage of the Lamb”, with its bold hallelujahs. These alternate with moments of exquisite peace (“I saw a new heaven” and “I am the Alpha and the Omega” are notable examples).

The other main work on this disc, Beatitudes, eight pieces, is reinforced by solo piano, and does indeed capture a mood of enchantment, optimism, and serenity. The enraptured conclusion of “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, the uplifting positivity of “Blessed are the meek”, the use of effective piano ostinato or counterpoint in two ensuing sections, one climax of almost Beethoven-like proportions, and a redeeming gentleness in the last two Beatitudes, with commendably fine tenors, all lend the work character and tenderness.

The shorter pieces, mostly new, have added appeal. The opening of Johannine prologue benefits from a greater chordal simplicity than much of that above, as do the two tender ensuing settings of inspiring texts (“Peace Beyond Thought” and “Let us Love”, plus Quanta Qualia) by the composer’s brother, Canon Andrew Hawes — the two have often collaborated — for whose churches in south Lincolnshire The Edenham Eucharist was composed, including an intensely beautiful Lord’s Prayer setting heard here, endowed with a fitting simplicity, but also impressively original.

It is, perhaps, arguable that the frequent use of added-note chords, while undeniably touching, can limit harmonic development, leaving it to dynamics, rhythm, and counterpoint to supply a feeling of onward movement. That is why Quanta Qualia, with its inspiring saxophone support, and the other separate works in some way have the edge. But these are works of great tenderness and rapture which will enchant many, both Classic FM listeners who are drawn especially to this lulling and beguiling genre of music, and a wider public.


Correction: I included the sentence “Several choir solos . . .” and also the sentence that follows in the printed review of the Armstrong Gibbs St. Luke Passion by accident last week. They refer to a different concert. My apologies. RD

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