BBC Symphony Chorus / Stephen Jackson / Fine Arts Brass Ensemble / Thomas Trotter

Judith Bingham: The Secret Garden; Salt in the Blood; First Light

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British composer Judith Bingham began her career as a singer and four of the five pieces recorded here are choral, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus, a group with which she once performed. Bingham's musical language is basically tonal with chromatically enriched harmonies. She writes idiomatically for the voice, but for the most part these pieces seem too long to sustain their musical content; if the composer stated her ideas with more conciseness, the pieces might be highly attractive, but as is, they seem distended and wear out their welcome before they're over. This is particularly true in Salt in the Blood, a 20-minute ghost story for chorus that features sea shanties and hornpipes. The Secret Garden, "a Botanical Fantasy," for chorus and organ with a text by the composer, raises the intriguing metaphysical question: what happened to the Garden of Eden after the expulsion of the Man and Woman? Did it disappear or does it continue to exist somewhere? It's the most striking piece on the CD, with clearly differentiated sections, atmospheric text setting, and textural variety, but here, too, some judicious editorial pruning would have strengthened the work. The BBC Symphony Chorus, conducted by Stephen Jackson with organist Thomas Trotter and the Fine Arts Brass, gives the pieces a solid performance.

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