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Track(s) taken from CDA67679

The Peaceable Kingdom

1936; a sequence of sacred choruses; commissioned in 1935 by the League of Composers for the Harvard Glee Club and the Radcliffe Choral Society
author of text

Schola Cantorum of Oxford, James Burton (conductor)
Recording details: March 2008
Exeter College Chapel, Oxford, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Andrew Mellor
Release date: October 2008
Total duration: 23 minutes 22 seconds

Cover artwork: The Peaceable Kingdom (c1833) by Edward Hicks (1780-1849)
Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts / Bridgeman Art Library, London


'The Schola Cantorum under James Burton radiates in performances that could not be bettered' (Gramophone)

'A vivid response to words is paramount in the 1936 sacred motet sequence The Peacable Kingdom … the performances do full justice to this little-known repertoire' (Choir & Organ)

'This superb recording … the performances are first rate, Thompson's lucid yet never naïve word-painting realised with great sensitivity to both the musical and verbal fabrics … the overall blend and balance of voices … is also a great source of pleasure, adding much to Thompson's sweet and subtle yet wholly persuasive rhetoric. The recording … is as luminous and attractive as Thompson's music, while composer Morten Lauridsen's expert booklet notes provide much useful biographical and technical information. Thompson may have been writing for his own day, but with advocates of the calibre of the present performers it's a safe bet that his musical legacy will continue to reach and move the hearts of a wide audience for some time to come' (International Record Review)

'James Burton inspires Oxford's classy intercollegiate choir to realise a masterpiece in Randall Thompson's The Peaceable Kingdom … the bright, lithe sopranos are absolutely together … the stimulating rhythms, exquisite tuning, rich word painting and constant attention to imaginative dynamics make this an outstanding performance' (The Times)

'Schola Cantorum of Oxford dig into these works with such relish and enthusiasm, displaying an obvious love for this music, and cementing the idea of Thompson's universal appeal' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'Randall Thompson has been much recorded in the US … but none match the sensitivity and accuracy of James Burton's consort. Thompson's fusion of 18th-century harmony with 20th-century word-painting techniques into something totally original shows why choirs love his music' (Classical Music)

'Schola Cantorum's program is nothing less than a treasure-trove … and so are James Burton and his excellent choir, who take on these often unassuming and straightforward, sometimes very demanding, technically unforgiving works with enthusiasm and commitment … anyone who loves choral music will be right at home here' (Classics Today)

'An unexpected pleasure … fine performances from Schola Cantorum and the excellent James Burton' (Oxford Today)
A commission from the League of Composers in 1935 led to the composition of The Peaceable Kingdom, scored for a cappella chorus. Thompson was greatly influenced by the eighteenth-century American artist Edward Hicks’s painting entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. The painting, reproduced on the cover of this booklet, portrays a child amongst a large group of animals serenely lying together as described in the book of Isaiah (11: 6–9, ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid’, etc). Intrigued by this passage, Thompson studied the full book of Isaiah and from it selected eight texts referencing the themes of peace and good versus evil.

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

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