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Bob Chilcott remains one of the best-loved choral composers of today, his music performed across the globe. The works recorded here by the passionate singers of the NFM Choir share a common expression that out of despair and futility can spring hope for the future.
Three Latin texts, well-known to singers and composers, 'Te lucis ante terminum', 'Christe qui splendor et dies' and 'O nata lux' are the texts that I use in the piece Canticles of Light. The first two of these texts come from the evening service of Compline and they ask God for protection through the darkness of the night. The third text, 'O nata lux', comes from the morning service of Lauds and sings of God as ‘the light born from light’. This work was written in 1999 for Winchester Music Club to sing alongside the Winchester Cathedral Girls’ Choir who were newly formed at the time. I included the bell at the suggestion of Michael Till, the then Dean of Winchester and a friend, who loved the sound of the bells of Winchester Cathedral.
Wilfred Owen is known to many as the poet who died as a young man, and who wrote so vividly and emotionally about the horror and futility of war. However, other passionate themes are ever-present in his poetry, the two principal ones being those of beauty and love, the latter not only for the natural world around him but also for his fellow human beings, comrades, and friends. In my piece Move him into the sun, the image of the sun as a source of light, life, and energy is that on which I have focused. Portrayed here largely by the upper-voice singers, it ultimately becomes a source of redemption and an expression of feeling at one with life, which is so beautifully articulated in Owen’s poetry. Move him into the sun was commissioned by the Trustees of St Chad’s Music Festival and Shrewsbury Bookfest in memory of Wilfred Owen, the Shropshire soldier/poet who lived in Shrewsbury from 1907. The piece was first performed in November 2018, one hundred years after he was killed in action near Ors, in Northern France.
Remembrance, redemption, and acceptance are three themes that resonate most strongly in the remaining pieces on this recording. In Standing as I do before God Cecilia McDowall uses Edith Cavell’s poignant words, sung here principally by a soprano soloist in combination with a new, complimentary text by Seán Street, which is sung mainly by the choir. After the German occupation of Brussels, Nurse Edith Cavell sheltered wounded soldiers and helped them to safety. She was arrested and executed for treason. Her last words were, ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’
James Macmillan’s piece, A child’s prayer, was written in memory of the sixteen young pupils and the one teacher who died in the 1996 Dunblane massacre at Dunblane Primary School, near Stirling in Scotland. Remembering a traditional text from his childhood, James Macmillan, in what is perhaps an expression of a redemption of sorts, focuses tellingly on two words that resonate through the piece, ‘welcome’ and ‘joy’.
Francis Pott’s Lament is a very personal response to the death of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, who died attempting to defuse an explosive device while on active service. Francis discovered that Olaf Schmid had lived close to his own family home, not far from Winchester. Here he sets the heartfelt poetry of Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, who writes so powerfully and simply of how loss and love can perhaps be reconciled through memories.
These thoughts also permeate the gentle but deeply resonant words of the poet Charles Bennett, in a piece written specially for the NFM Choir. Charles’ words in Sing the colour of peace speak, like Wilfred Owen’s did one hundred years before, of the futility of war.
I would like to thank the NFM Choir, the players from the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic, Izabela Grad, sound engineer Agnieszka Szczepańczyk, Val Withams of Choral Connections, and finally the architect of it all, Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny, a wonderful choral musician.
Bob Chilcott © 2023