Choral symphony reminiscent of Vaughan William's Sea Symphon
Todd Nolan | Seattle, WA USA | 07/13/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Since I've been a collector of Armstrong Gibb's works after hearing his 1st & 3rd symphonies on a Marco Polo disc several years ago, I didn't hesitate when I read that this would be released this summer. A very underrated composer, a shade or so from the heights of Finzi and Vaughan Williams and Elgar, I'd like to think that his time will come for the recognition he deserves; but we have all felt that way about some composer whose neglect baffles us. Although several recording labels have put herculean efforts into unearthing these talents and their compositions for us, our symphony orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles and opera companies have failed us miserably by programming and playing essentially 'the greatest hits'.
Liner notes comparing this four movement choral symphony to the Sea Symphony of Vaughan Williams are fair, not just unwarranted flattery by an annotator who the label hand-picked to help sales. It does have more than a few moments that make you think of that classic, but its melodic and dramatic elements fall below the talents of not only the great Sea Symphony, but other VW choral masterpieces such as Sancta Civitas, Hodie, Epithalamion, Dona Nobis Pacem, Towards the Unknown Region and the Mass. I would liken this Gibb's work to Parry's The Soul's Ransom and Dyson's Agincourt.
Escape from Calypso is the title of the first movement in which the large choir enters at the 1:00 minute mark and continues almost without a break or orchestral interlude of any length for the 18 minutes duration (this might justify the lack of the libretto by Mordant Currie; it would have been prohibitive to print an opera-sized libretto for a CD that was only single disc price). The second movement marked Lento has the highlight of the work, the beautiful soliloquy of Circe, sung by the British soprano Susan Gritton, sounding as luscious as every other recording I've heard her in recently, including two or three of the Vivaldi Sacred Music discs with Robert King for Hyperion, Poulenc's Gloria and Gluck's Paride ed Elena. The third movement acts as the scherzo, and has the choir's men narrating Odysseus' adventure with the Cyclops. The last movement, The Return, has some of the best music as Penelope's despair is palpable while her "suitors" are certain Odysseus will not be interrupting their feast.
Its fitting that the disc includes the Four Songs for Sailors by George Dyson since his musical style and language are so similar to Gibb's. These short choral pieces are vintage Dyson, and while I don't think I have to persuade Elgar, Finzi, Rubbra & VW fans to sample this disc, for those who are unfamiliar with the 20th century Brits this makes a good introduction since it represents the two composer's musical language very well, and one can't go wrong with their masterpieces either, the 3rd symphony (Gibbs) and The Canterbury Pilgrims (Dyson)."