Richard Blackford: Pietà and Canticle of Winter
"Inspired by the traditional Latin text of the Stabat Mater, poems from Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem and the Pietà by Michelangelo, Richard Blackford has created an outstanding choral work: a passionate personal tribute in memory of all who suffer from violence, suppression and political persecution, which has deeply impressed me. Finally a modern composer who is not afraid to write beautiful and touching music!
Richard Blackford's Pieta is a Stabat Mater, not with all of the 13th-century Latin text, but including a couple of settings of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. The 40-minute piece is scored for mezzo and baritone soloists - both Jennifer Johnston and Stephen Gadd are powerfully expressive - plus the equally fine soprano saxophonist Amy Dickson, the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and the strings of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, all capably led by Gavin Carr. Everything he [Blackford] writes is skilful and effective, often with an emotional charge, as in the opening section. The uncertain, halting progress to the fifth movement, with its use of children's chorus, is curiously touching; the saxophone obbligato, which throughout acts as a kind of counterpoint to the vocal soloists or to the chorus, gives the music heightened potency. Even more successful is the atmospheric, six-minute Canticle of Winter, inspired by a Robert Frost poem, scored for saxophone and strings, which perfectly represents 'the sense of restlessness, of something unresolved' described by the composer in his programme note.
PERFORMANCE **** RECORDING **** BBC Music Magazine
“Blackford takes a different approach to the Stabat mater. He interleaves the Latin with poems taken from Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem, in which she addresses the suffering inflicted by Stalin’s purges, and particularly her anguish as her husband is murdered by the secret police and her son imprisoned. Akhmatova’s words gives the Crucifixion scene a different, more contemporary resonance; Mary’s suffering becomes the suffering of every mother who has watched her child die. The proximity of Akhmatova’s words makes the Stabat Mater text feel angrier and harsher. It opens old wounds. Blackford responds to this with choral writing (underpinned by strings) that is often turbulent, chromatic, rhythmically angular and fugal, but with telling, almost angel-like interventions from a soprano saxophone, the excellent Amy Dickson, that lead the work towards an ending that suggests an uneasy lull rather than a soul at peace. Pietà made a deep impact on me. It’s good news that Nimbus has recorded it. Let’s hope other adventurous choirs take it up.”
★★★★☆ The Times
“Dickson played with a lovely even, singing tone, bringing a remarkable range of colours to the instrument.”