On record – State Choir LATVIJA / Māris Sirmais – Sempiternam: Choral music by Rhona Clarke (Métier)

rhona-clarke

Rhona Clarke
O Vis Aeternitatis (2020)
Two Marian Anthems (2007)
Three Carols on Medieval Texts (2014)
Requiem (2020)
The Kiss (2008)
A Song for St Cecilia’s Day (1991)
Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep (2006)
The Old Woman (2016)
Rorate Caeli (1994)

State Choir LATVIJA / Māris Sirmais

Métier MSV28614 [72’36”] English/Latin texts and English translations included

Producer & Engineer Varis Kutmiņš

Recorded July 2021, St John’s Church, Riga

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Métier continues its coverage of Rhona Clarke with this collection of choral works that spans three decades and comprises settings in English and Latin, underlining the stylistic extent of her music as well as its versatility over a range of texts from the Medieval to the present era.

What’s the music like?

Now in her mid-sixties and a prominent figure in the cultural life of her native Dublin, Clarke has amassed a sizable output as takes in almost all the major genres with particular emphasis on chamber, choral and electro-acoustic music. A previous Métier release of her four piano trios from the Fidelio Trio (MSV28561) confirmed her astute handling of what is among the more recalcitrant of chamber media, with such fluency being no less evident in her writing for chorus that can easily be described as inclusive in terms of its subjects and sympathies.

The Latin pieces are almost all religious texts, of which the gradual Rorate Caeli is energetic and intricate with particularly adroit usage of modes. The stylistic trajectory Clarke has taken is evident in the motet O Vis Aeternitatis, whose text by Hildegard of Bingen duly inspires a setting of great contrapuntal skill with arresting interplay of sung and spoken passages. Two Marian Anthems comprise a fluid take on Regina Caeli then a Salve Regina whose fusing of chordal and melismatic elements results in music of translucent beauty. Most extensive is the Requiem whose four sections – a sombre ‘Introit’, an ethereal ‘Lux Aeterna’, an intimate ‘Pie Jesu’ then a soulful ‘In Paradisum’ – focus on the overtly cathartic aspects. Very different is Ave Atque Vale, a setting of Catullus where pathos and indignation are forcefully intertwined.

The English pieces underline Clarke’s literary sympathies even more directly. The relatively early A Song for St Cecilia’s Day evinces an inventive approach to Dryden’s verse in which order is wrested out of (relative) chaos towards a climactic statement around ‘diapason’. Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep sets the poem generally attributed to Mary Elizabeth Frye with a melting eloquence as ought to make it a staple of the modern repertoire. After which, the grim humour summoned from the anonymous text The Old Woman is the more pungent. Clarke’s questing harmonic approach helps clarify the sentiment of Ulick O’Connor’s poem The Kiss, but its directness in Three Carols on Medieval Texts yields an engaging humour in Glad and Blithe and Make We Merry to complement the rapt intimacy of Lullay My Liking.

Does it all work?

Almost always thanks to the technical finesse of Clarke’s choral writing and, as previously noted, her ability to ‘home in’ on the expressive essence of the text(s) at hand makes for an emotional empathy which communicates directly to listeners. It helps when the contribution of the State Choir LATVIJA, under Māris Sirmais, is so attuned to this music, not least given its audible command of several by no means idiomatic (to modern ears) English texts. Choral societies looking for new pieces to enrich their repertoire could do worse than to investigate what is on offer here.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The acoustic of St John’s, Riga is ideally suited to the frequent textural density of this music and the composer provides detailed annotations. Hopefully there will be more releases from this source, not least of the electro-acoustic works that form a notable part of her output.

Listen

Buy

For further information on this disc and to view purchase options, visit the Divine Art Records website. To read more about Rhona Clarke, visit this dedicated composer website, and for more on the performers, click on the names of State Choir LATVIJA and Māris Sirmais.

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