According to Dutton Digital's annotators, one of the most acclaimed British works of the first decade of the twentieth century was Walford Davies' oratorio Everyman. Premiered in 1904, in an age notable for such works as Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, Everyman has had exactly two performances in a hundred years' time and has never been recorded, even in part. Dutton Digital has decided Everyman's time has come, and has gone to great expense and effort to locate Davies' virtually lost orchestral score and record this work in its original form with soloists, chorus, and orchestra.
Davies' text is the famous anonymous fifteenth century morality play Everyman, which is set in musical language most prevalent among English-speaking classical composers in 1904 -- heavily Germanic in almost every aspect. Conductor and note writer David Drummond acknowledges similarities in Davies' orchestration to Brahms and Richard Strauss, but neglects, or avoids, the single most obvious comparison in the whole work, that to Richard Wagner. Horns call out fanfares, the solo singing is heroic, and the chorus waxes and wanes, sighing away at the ends of phrases. Everyman ends with a great big fugue, as one might expect, which places it squarely in the camp of works like Stainer's Crucifixion and Horatio T. Parker's Hora Novissima.
It is enjoyable; Everyman is a solid piece of music built with good craftsmanship and is very well performed and recorded here. Particularly good is soprano Jennifer Johnston in the role of Knowledge, baritone Pauls Putnins in the title role, and the splendid London Oriana Choir, which sounds great in the two revised 1934 sections of Everyman. The first of these contains some striking Ivesian chords that are wholly unlike anything found in the rest of Everyman and whets one's appetite for Walford Davies' later period music.
Yet the political ramifications of Everyman, and its painful irony in light of forward events, is just so glaringly obvious that it is impossible to ignore. The generation of Englishmen born the age of Walford Davies' children would be cut to pieces in the face of German cannon. Despite his obvious skill as a composer, Davies' handiwork might be seen as worthy of its obscurity for reasons other than of its purely musical qualities. The year 1904 might have to come around again in order for Everyman to be considered more than a curious relic of a time so far gone we will nevermore see its like.