We are delighted to share the news that Orchid Classics will be releasing Volume 1 of the series of CDs dedicated to Richard Pantcheff’s work. This disc comprises works for choir and organ, choir unaccompanied, and choir with piano, performed by the London Choral Sinfonia, conducted by Michael Waldron. Volume 2 has already been recorded, and the tentative date for that release is February 2021. The release of Volume 1 will be on 18 September 2020.
Composers Edition’s Késia Decoté talked with Richard Pantcheff about his relationship with London Choral Sinfonia and the works presented on this superb CD.
Késia Decoté: We’re delighted to hear the news of this new album, which is such a great celebration of your choral music! Can you tell us how the idea of the album came up? Is there an ongoing creative relationship between you and the London Choral Sinfonia / Michael Waldron conductor?
Richard Pantcheff: Michael Waldron and I first met in the very early days of the London Choral Sinfonia, when he expressed interest in a Christmas carol of mine (A Christmas Carol – Opus 88, No.2). Michael and the London Choral Sinfonia duly recorded and released it in December 2019 on Orchid Classics (album ‘O Holy Night’). By then, Michael and I had discussed recording a full disc of my choral music, which is the CD now appearing on Orchid Classics.
It is part of an on-going creative relationship, because the London Choral Sinfonia and Michael have recorded a further disc of my works, and we have more plans for the future. The London Choral Sinfonia is an outstanding choir of professionals and Michael one of the most brilliant of choral conductors of this generation.
KD: This album features an amazing selection of works spanning from 1995 to 2012. How has it been for you to re-visit these works from your early and mid-compositional periods?
RP: It is always fascinating to go back and look at works written some years ago, not least because they are important reminders of what was going on at that time, both in the composer’s and performer’s lives and in the world generally. It is very instructive to look back over the original sketches and manuscripts and remember how and why the pieces were written, to recall the compositional process and the response of performers and listeners at the time.
It also enables one to reflect upon the changes and developments in one’s compositional voice, and sheds light upon more recent works, too.
KD: We understand that church music has the characteristic of music with a specific purpose and aimed to a specific environment. In this album, there are two pillars of your oeuvre, the Evening Canticles ‘Aedes Christi’, written for Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and Evening Canticles – St. Paul’s, written for St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.
Did you have the specific characteristics of each cathedral and choir in mind when you were writing these deeply contrasting works? Can you tell us if/how the respective peculiarities may have influenced the musical choices in your compositional process?
RP: The characteristics of the buildings and the sonorities of the choirs are major factors in the composition of these pieces. Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford has a dry acoustic, and so the sound from the choir and organ is very immediate and bright. Additionally, the ‘Aedes Christi’ Evening Canticles were commissioned for Upper Voices and Organ so there is a lot of rhythmic drive and brightness in the writing.
Due to its size, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has a very mellow acoustic. By contrast with the Christ Church Canticles, the St. Paul’s Evening Canticles were commissioned for lower voices (Altos, Tenors, and Basses) and Organ, and so the phrases here are longer, more sustained, and written so as to be discernible in a building with much longer reverberation-time.
Even so, the works have subsequently been performed by different choirs in very different buildings from those for which they were written, and they sound equally effective elsewhere.
KD: I am intrigued by the structure of Four poems of Stephen Crane. In this four-piece work, there is one unaccompanied movement right in the middle of the setting – the third piece which is a scherzo. Is it related to the text, to the music? Could you tell us the intention behind this respite in the instrumental accompaniment?
RP: The idea of making the third movement unaccompanied had more to do with wanting variety of texture, rather than anything specific arising from the text. The words of all four poems express similar meanings.
In a way, this cycle of four poems fits together rather like an extended sonata form, and with this faster third movement, I felt the increased pace could accommodate using the voices on their own, and create a special type of intensity. There is then a sense of restoring the full tonal and textural palette when the piano returns in the final movement, in which the meaning of the whole work is in many ways summed up.
KD: What shall we offer Thee? is the only work in the album that wasn’t a commission. Did this ‘freedom’ have an impact on your writing process?
RP: It didn’t make much difference, actually. Generally, whenever I am commissioned to set a text of any kind, it is always one which has been agreed well in advance with the people commissioning the work (e.g. King Henry VIII’s Apologia), and one which will fulfill their requirements.
It is true that I was particularly taken with the Greek Orthodox words of What shall we offer Thee? and the way their meaning might be conveyed and enhanced in music. So the work might not have been specifically commissioned by anyone, but it did arise out of my own response to the magnificence of the text.
KD: I couldn’t help feeling moved by listening to Spirit of Mercy, such a strikingly beautiful work which closes the album. This piece remained unperformed for 12 years after you wrote it, then became a highly successful feature in the choir repertoire all around the world. How was it for you, as the composer, this waiting time for the piece to blossom and shine in its own time?
RP: I don’t mind waiting for a piece to fulfill its potential. With some pieces that happens immediately, with others it takes time. Very often, people need (and should take) the time to absorb a piece, and return to it many times before its full meaning is revealed. It is often said of my works that repeated hearing is necessary before the true meaning of the work is evident to the listener. Such empathy with the music doesn’t necessarily come easily, or on first hearing. Fortunately, in most cases listeners are willing to engage in this way, and find it very rewarding.
KD: We are looking forward to listening to the whole album! Where will it be available for listening and purchase?
RP: From 18 September 2020 it will be available for downloading or purchase from Orchid Classics, as well as through Amazon, or via the London Choral Sinfonia website. Please also refer to my website for more information.
Composers Edition is proud to publish all the works of this CD, which are available for perusal and purchase through our website.
Tags: A Christmas Carol, Choral Music, Evening Canticles ‘Aedes Christi’, Four Poems of Stephen Crane, King Henry VIII’s Apologia, London Choral Sinfonia, Michael Waldron, Orchid Classics, Richard Pantcheff, Spirit of Mercy, What shall we offer Thee?