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Richard Blackford: Pietà and Canticle of Winter



Pietà is a setting of the Stabat Mater by Richard Blackford, with additional poems by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Performed by mezzo and baritone soloists, SATB chorus, children’s chorus, string and solo saxophone. Pietà was commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and St. Albans Choral Society (conductor George Vass) with support from the Nimbus Foundation. It was first performed on June 22nd 2019 at The Lighthouse, Poole with Nimbus recording this remarkable work directly after the premier. Canticle of Winter was written during the winter of 2019, and was inspired by the last stanza of Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: The sense of restlessness, of something unresolved, despite the beauty of the winter landscape, permeates the music. The dynamic range of the entire piece is from ppp to barely more than mf, and it is the soft, plangent sound of the soprano saxophone that evokes the stillness of the winter night and the traveler’s journey through it. Canticle of Winter was first performed on October 19th 2019 by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, London, conducted by Gavin Carr. The soloist was Amy Dickson, to whom the work is dedicated.

Richard Blackford: Pietà and Canticle of Winter


“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.Planet Hugill