Howard Blake: The Passion of Mary; Four Songs of the Nativityby Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
British composer Howard Blake is best known for his film scores, including "The Lords of Discipline," "Flashman," and especially "The Snowman," which includes the memorable song "Walking in the Air."" He has spent much of his career writing for the church and has created a substantial body of work for chorus. His hour-long oratorio, "The Passion of Mary" (his Op. 577), dates from 2006. Originally conceived of as a Stabat Mater, Blake expanded the piece to encompass a broader picture of Mary's life, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection, concluding with a Salve Regina using a variety of Biblical, liturgical, and literary texts in English and Latin. Although he embraces the style of a variety of eras, from the medieval to the modern, his writing is steadfastly conservative and seldom ventures into territory more harmonically challenging than Vaughan Williams. The structure is conventional, as well, with the familiar use of recitatives, lyrical solos, and choruses. Vocal ensemble London Voices and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, led by the composer, deliver assured performances. Blake is in his element in the "Four Songs of the Nativity" from 1990. The choral anthems, for small choir and brass ensemble, are entirely successful, warmly and simply melodic.
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