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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Track(s) taken from CDA67615
Recording details: March 2000
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Nick Flower
Engineered by Mike Skeet
Release date: January 2007
Total duration: 6 minutes 38 seconds

Five Epigrams
author of text

In Five Epigrams (1960), Maws succeeds effortlessly in accomplishing his aims when composing for amateur singers. The set was written shortly after he had finished his composition studies, and at this point in his career he was keen to write something for a choir. When he came across these pithy epigrams by Robert Burns, he felt that they ‘provided somewhat different kind of texts than usual in choral music’. In addition he was also ‘attracted by the brevity of the poems, as that would mean short musical settings, which I assumed would be more attractive to choirs, since this was the work of a young, so far, unknown composer’. The work was dedicated to Kenneth Roberton and The London Scottish Choir, who gave the premiere in 1961.

‘On a noisy polemic’ is enhanced by a choral accompaniment to the folksong-like melody. Vocal glissandi and shouted speech wittily emphasize the word ‘bitch’, and more humour occurs at the words ‘O Death, it’s my opinion’ where, to the marking Andante religioso, the phrase is set to a mocking plagal cadence. In ‘On the death of Robert Ruisseaux’ Maw pairs the voices (latterly as a stark two-part canon) to create a sombre elegy.

With its swift pace and gradual crescendo, ‘On a henpecked country squire’ gives a vivid portrayal of the husband literally nagged to death. Altos and sopranos chase each other in imitation, then basses and tenors follow suit. The ‘lady famed for her caprice’ finds her ephemeral character evoked through the word-painting of the word ‘butterfly’; and equally her want of ‘goodness’ as the second syllable of the word lands on a biting dissonance.

Clearly Burns did not like the eponymous ‘Andrew Turner’! The epigram recounts that the Devil planned to ‘mak’ a swine’, but changing his mind he ‘shaped it something like a man / And ca’d it Andrew Turner’. Maw tells the tale to a rollicking tune with tattoo-like accompaniment.

from notes by Andrew Burn 2007

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