Simon Callow / Sarah Connolly / Nigel Short / Aurora Orchestra / Tenebrae

A Walk with Ivor Gurney

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This double album takes its name from the included 2013 work by Judith Bingham, setting poems by the British composer-poet Ivor Gurney and also referring to his penchant for taking long walks in the countryside. The text, quite inventively, mixes Gurney's poems with inscriptions from Roman tombs he might have seen on his walks, which in turn evoke what must have been his own disorientation as he faced poison gas on the front in France during World War I. It's a major piece of choral music, and you might sample it and look forward to future performances, not that the one here by the choir Tenebrae, which commissioned the work, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, the Aurora Orchestra, and conductor Nigel Short leaves anything to be desired. The title has yet another resonance: the opening work, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, so moved Gurney and another young composer, Herbert Howells, at its first performance in 1910 that the two took a long walk together and talked about the piece for the rest of the night. A piece by Howells follows on the Fantasia, and then come songs by Gurney himself (three of the four are orchestrated by others), and more Vaughan Williams, all with stronger or more tenuous connections to Gurney. The program thus seems to unfurl in an unusual way from elements introduced as it goes along, and Tenebrae offers both technical chops and a strong connection to the material. A choice release for those who love 20th century British choral music.

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