Part Songs by Edward Elgar and Jean Sibelius
Electra Perivolaris – If this island…
Matthew Whittall – Songs of Travel
This afternoon concert of acappella choral music comprised of choral songs drawing their
imagery, if not central themes, from the natural world, or set in and inspired by distinct landscapes.
In the opening song, Elgar’s setting of Tennyson’s There is Sweet Music, one was immediately struck by the choir’s burnished, rich and complex timbre, but also by a worrying muddiness of diction. The choir seemed to have been seduced by Elgar’s long lyrical lines and lush harmonies to produce a gorgeous wash of sound, but at the expense of consonants.
The shaping of phrases was beautiful, but pointing of the text almost non-existent; words were
indistinguishable. Sadly this became a persistent issue throughout the performance, particularly noticeable in the numbers by Elgar.
Diction fared slightly better in the songs by Sibelius. Perhaps this was because the choir felt the
need to work harder in an unfamiliar language, or perhaps because the more folk-orientated songs
were, on the whole, spikier, livelier and less lyrical; the sentiments more naïve. Because there was more attention to the text, even in a language I do not understand, these songs seemed to be better characterised and delivered with more clarity & commitment.
The second half of the concert commenced with a new work by Electra Perivolaris If this island…
receiving its world premiere. This is an atmospheric and evocative piece which repeatedly returns to
the opening line and motif, each time delivering more of the poem’s text but with new and ever
more inventive textural developments in the music. A clever device giving the impression of
the song being woven, rather like the piece of tweed central to the imagery of the poem.
This was followed by Matthew Whittall’s choral song cycle, Songs of Travel, a setting of words by
Robert Louis Stevenson. In the expansive first song, Home no more home, a folk like melody floats in
an ethereal sea of harmonics; whispered words taken from the text, reminiscent of echoes or
memories of what has been lost.
This is a striking opening. Whittall maintains his imaginative use of the words and distinctive textures throughout the cycle. In the second song he creates a facsimile of a bagpipe drone. In the third he removes words from repeated phrases to create more concentrated units of meaning. The cycle takes us on an absorbing and moving journey where the poet faces his loss and becomes reconciled.
All in all, this was an engaging and well put together programme, delivered with freshness and
character. It just could have done with more emphasis on putting across & enunciating the words.
The Carice Singers
Conductor – George Parris