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The choral cycle opens gently with a simple, hymn-like setting for men on the text, ‘Say ye to the righteous’ contrasted soon after by the declamatory ‘Woe unto the wicked!’. The text-settings throughout demonstrate Thompson’s penchant for mostly triadic harmonies, melodic sequences, imitative passages and quasi-Baroque ornamentations. The second movement, ‘Woe unto them’, is highlighted by alternating choral voices declaiming the text in recitative style, punctuated by tutti interjections on the word ‘Woe’.
The harmonic progressions in the third movement reference the Ecclesiastical modes (especially the Dorian) from the Renaissance, and again present the text in a declamatory manner, departing from the mostly triadic harmonies to add some dissonance in painting ‘they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth’. The dramatic, imitative ‘Howl ye’ is contrasted by the quiet ‘The paper reeds by the brooks’, where the soprano melody is mirrored by the basses in contrary motion. Always tying his text to the underlying musical setting, the gently flowing melodic lines deftly paint the word ‘brooks’. For the final three movements Thompson reverts to a very straightforward neo-Baroque chorale style, employing simple diatonic triads and traditional harmonic progressions and utilizing a double choir in the final movement, ‘Ye shall have a song’.
Composed while the composer was in his mid-thirties, this oft-performed choral cycle displays Thompson’s careful attention to text-setting and his skill in composing for choral ensembles in a conservative style accessible to amateur singers and lay audiences.
from notes by Morten Lauridsen © 2008