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Track(s) taken from SIGCD270

Shared Ground

author of text

Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore (conductor)
Recording details: July 2011
Hawkesyard Priory, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: November 2011
Total duration: 23 minutes 31 seconds


'It scarcely seems possible that Birmingham-based chamber choir Ex Cathedra and their founder-director Jeffrey Skidmore entered their fifth decade of performing together in 2009. The group's repertoire has always been wide, but everything that marks out Ex Cathedra as one of the UK's leading vocal ensembles can be heard on this memorable two-disc set of music by Alec Roth: even tone, perfect intonation, clarity of diction, but above all whole-hearted commitment to the material in hand. Skidmore offers authoritative readings of four of Roth's choral pieces, several of which were composed for Ex Cathedra. It is an excellent follow-up to Signum's earlier disc of Roth's Songs in Time of War. Warmly recommended' (Choir & Organ)

'Alec Roth has collaborated with Ex Cathedra since 2007, and five of his works are immaculately sung here by the choir, including Shared Ground, with optional movementsfor solo violin included' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Roth's music is striking for its rich, beautifully crafted choral textures, ecological and metaphysical subject matter, and references to the great heritage of European choral music. This double album features Jeffrey Skidmore's excellent choir and the violinist Philippe Honore. Earthrise is a fabulous. 40-part unaccompanied choral work in three movements with the sort of poly-choral, lushly harmonized climaxes that send shivers down the spine. Just as impressive is Shared Ground, in which Vikram Seth's text pays homage to George Herbert as deftly as Roth's music pays homage to Bach' (The Times)
‘I first came across George Herbert’s poetry in The Albatross Book of Verse, a copy of which had been given to my mother in Darjeeling on her 18th birthday. I requisitioned it and took it with me to my boarding school in Dehradun, where I dipped into it from time to time. I liked Herbert’s poems well enough, but was more taken at the time by his wordplay. It was some years later, when doing my English A-level at Tonbridge School that I came across him again: a selection of his poetry was one of our set texts. I felt a great affinity for Herbert—for his clarity, his depth of feeling, his spiritual struggles, his delight in the pleasures of nature and music, his wit, his strange juxtapositions, his decorous colloquiality. Indeed, though I am neither Christian nor particularly religious, he is still among my favourite poets.

‘When, more than three decades later, I heard that his house near Salisbury was on sale, I felt I had to visit it. I had no intention of buying it; I simply wanted to see the place where such poems as “Love” and “Virtue” had been written. I saw the house, felt its atmosphere, and—though I could not really afford to—made a bid for it. It struck me that had the house belonged to Donne or Milton or some other more overtly forceful personality, I would not have been able to live there. But Herbert, for all his depth and richness, is a clear writer and a tactful spirit. He might influence me but would not wish to wrest me from myself.

‘I bought the house in 2003. The garden runs down to the river Nadder, and the wood and water-meadows beyond form part of the grounds. At the beginning I felt his presence hourly, both within the house and outside. As time passed, I began to think of it as being somewhat more my own, but still, indefinably, shared.

‘Early in 2007, while I was in Delhi but thinking of Salisbury, I wrote the six poems of Shared Ground. Though the mood and spirit of these verses are my own, they are formally modelled on poems by Herbert: “Lost” on “Paradise”; “Oak” on “Easter-Wings”; “And” on “Hope”; “Host” on “Love III”; “Flash” on “Virtue” and “This” on “Prayer I”—some of the loveliest of his poems, and among my favourites.

‘The texts were set to music by Alec Roth while he was staying at the house during my absence in Delhi. The spirit of the place found its way into the music too, and in addition to setting the words for double choir, the composer wrote a set of dance-like pieces for solo violin, each inspired by one of the five bridges in the grounds. The two works, Shared Ground and Ponticelli (“little bridges”), are designed so that they can be performed separately or together. In the combined form, the six pieces of Shared Ground are linked by the five bridges of Ponticelli.’

Shared Ground and Ponticelli were commissioned jointly by the Salisbury, Chelsea and Lichfield Festivals with funds provided by Arts Council England and the PRS Foundation. The first performances were given by Ex Cathedra conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, and Philippe Honoré (violin) at Wilton Church, 6 June; Holy Trinity Church, Chelsea, 21 June; and Lichfield Cathedral, 10 July, 2007.

from notes by Vikram Seth © 2011

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