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Richard Hickox conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the second volume of Leighton’s orchestral works. BBC Music Magazine wrote of volume 1, “Hickox directs superbly paced and eloquent performances of this fine music.” Volume 2 presents two large-scale orchestral works, Symphony No.2 ‘Sinfonia Mistica’, which receives its first recording; coupled with Te Deum Laudamus in its orchestrated version.
One of the most successful British composers of the latter half of the twentieth century, Kenneth Leighton’s lifelong musical relationship with the human voice, exemplified in the two works of this recording, began as a chorister in the choir of Wakefield Cathedral as a young boy. It was to impact greatly on his writing. Over the course of his life he wrote almost continually for the voice, absorbing vocal lines in all settings. It provided an excellent vehicle for some of his most lyrical and expressive writing.
Leighton wrote three numbered symphonies. Symphony No.2 was composed in 1974 as a direct response to the death of his mother, and Leighton referred to the work as a ‘meditation on the subject of death.’ Composed over six movements and approaching an hour in length Sinfonia Mistica contains some of Leighton’s most personal and reactionary music, being at various times angry and emotional, yet serene and thoughtful. While he describes the symphony as a ‘requiem’ the conventional texts for this service are not employed, instead he used texts by John Donne, George Herbert and Henry King, poets who have been a constant source of inspiration to British composers.
The original setting of Te Deum was written for choir and organ, but two years after its completion, Leighton received a request from the Oxford Bach Choir for an orchestral version of the work, which was completed in 1966. Scored for chorus and full orchestra it is an imaginative setting of what is a liturgical text of praise, and written in honour of St Cecilia. This climatic work contains some of Leighton’s most enduring and significant music.
Chandos has received widespread appreciation for embarking on this revelatory new orchestral series. Volume 3 will be released in spring 2009.
“Sarah Fox sings with refulgent tone, commendable accuracy and shining intelligence; and Richard Hickox rallies the BBC Welsh forces to the same dizzy heights that marked out the previous volume in this series… as one of the best discs of 2008.”
“Despite its monumental aspect the Sinfonia mistica is essentially a personal, intimate work, and it gets a moving performance here, Richard Hickox judging to a nicety the various movements' complex succession of tempos, and their ebb and flow of intensity. Sarah Fox is a pure-voiced, poignant soloist, and the BBC National Chorus of Wales sound very confident, as if this was a repertoire standard for them.”
“Composed during 1973-74 in direct response to the death of his mother, Leighton's Sinfoniamistica is scored for soprano, chorus and orchestra. Described by its creator as 'a requiem or a meditation on the subject of death which usually becomes so more real to us in the second half of life', the symphony has six movements and sets texts by such great metaphysical poets as John Donne, Thomas Traherne and George Herbert, while also making telling use of the 1865 American hymn tune The Shining River. The linked 'Meditation' and 'Elegy' at the work's heart manifest an especially potent beauty, serenity and compassion, but, truth to tell, inspiration soars consistently high in this cogently wrought and (above all) profoundly humane utterance. This is music which will amply repay repeated listening. The orchestral version of the glorious 1964 Te Deum laudamus makes a rewarding postscript. Both performances are beyond reproach. Sarah Fox sings with refulgent tone, commendable accuracy and shining intelligence; and Richard Hickox rallies the BBC Welsh forces to same dizzy heights. Outstandingly vivid sound, too, with a perfectly judged balance throughout. Miss at your peril.”
“This is a hauntingly compelling recording of some of Kenneth Leighton's most inspired music...The orchestra and chorus were inspired to great heights in this recording, and the sound itself is of demonstration quality.”
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