- There Was a Child, oratorio for 2 soloists, triple chorus & orchestra
Jonathan Dove wrote his oratorio, "There Was a Child," in memory of the son of friends who had died at the age of 19. At the parents' request, the work is celebratory and dwells only briefly on the tragedy of the loss. Dove assembled a widely diverse selection of poems, including works by poets as varied as Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, Dickenson, Tennyson, Whitman, and Langston Hughes, as well as lesser known Renaissance and modern writers. Dove is skillful at setting texts and gifted in conveying the poetry's sense in expressive musical gestures. His style is generously lyrical, and for the most part he avoids the kinds of harmonic choral clichés that frequently characterize the works of his contemporaries who use a similarly conservative musical language. His orchestration is especially fine, and he is a master of creating shimmering, luminous textures. The influence of John Adams (from the era of "Nixon in China" and "The Death of Klinghoffer") is often evident in the shape of the vocal lines, the harmonic progressions, and the use of repetition, but the music is unquestionably effective and is often eloquently transcendent. At the line, "I am the tide that moves the moon," from the first movement, "I am the song," by Charles Causley, the music blossoms rhapsodically, and "High Flight," with a text by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., does indeed take flight and soar with ecstatic abandon. The oratorio is a large piece, lasting 50 minutes, scored for orchestra, choir, children's choir, and soprano and tenor solos. The size of the performing forces required makes it unlikely that it will have widespread performances, which is unfortunate because it's a substantial, gratifying piece that deserves broad exposure and is likely to please audiences. Simon Halsey leads the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the orchestra's Youth Chorus and Children's Chorus in a radiant, energetic performance. Toby Spence is in excellent, heroic voice, and he sings with resonant warmth and passion. The soprano part is sometimes written high, making it difficult for the text to be understood, but Joan Rodgers sings it sweetly. The sound of Signum's live recording is unusually clean and well balanced, with a warm and realistic ambience.