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Highly Resourceful

MIKE WHEELER listens to
a new work by Richard Roddis


Derby Bach Choir's fiftieth birthday celebrations are certainly turning out to be memorable, not least for producing a new large-scale work for chorus and orchestra that deserves to enter the repertoire (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 4 April 2009). The choir's conductor, Richard Roddis, has written a number of small-scale pieces, but his new Lauda Creatoris is, at some fifty minutes, by far his most ambitious score so far, and it got an enthusiastic reception from both choir and audience.

Scored for double choir, a separate chorus of trebles and a large orchestra, it is a setting of St Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures, interspersed with poems, or part-poems, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which act as a commentary on, or amplification of, the imagery in the main text. Dividing the work into twelve separate movements, Roddis allots St Francis' words to the chorus and the Hopkins texts, with one exception, to the soprano and baritone soloists, Lucy Crowe and James Rutherford on this occasion.

The music explores a vivid array of moods and colours. A dark, expectant opening becomes gradually more energised, leading to a Holst-like processional, after which the first choral entry is a thrilling moment.

The writing for double choir is highly resourceful, and Roddis' skilful and imaginative orchestration shines particularly in 'The Starlit Night', in the wonderfully bluesy writing for brass in the ninth movement, and in the penultimate movement for trebles, harp and glockenspiel, to which a soprano saxophone adds a soulful obbligato.

Hopkins is a notoriously intractable poet to set, but that hasn't stopped a number of distinguished composers from having a go. Roddis has succeeded as well as any of his predecessors, giving Lucy Crowe an engagingly bright, spangly aria in 'The Starlit Night', and exploring, through James Rutherford's sonorous tone, the violence as well as the vigour behind 'The Windhover'. The opening lines of 'God's Grandeur' are vividly scored for speaking chorus and unpitched percussion, with a return to pitched sonorities in both choir and orchestra effectively marking the change of tone in the poem's second half.

The work's final movement takes us back to the music of the choir's first entry. It would benefit from a longer fast section, to discharge more of the energy that has built up so far, but otherwise it draws this teeming work to a convincing conclusion. Singers and orchestra did their composer/conductor proud, giving an eloquent, exciting work a performance to match.

In Part 1, Vaughan Williams' Benedicite may have lacked a little boisterousness, but the work's warmth and good humour was nicely projected, with Lucy Crowe riding the wave to exhilarating effect. James Rutherford was the eloquent soloist in Delius' Sea Drift, with a moving, full-throated choral contribution. If there were occasions when balance with the orchestra was problematic, that was largely Delius' fault.

Some untidy moments in the orchestra did not detract from powerful readings of both works in the first half.

Copyright © 11 April 2009 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK


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