|The Angry Garden / Silvered Night
by Michael Stimpson
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
City of London Choir
Hilary Davan Wetton - conductor
The environment and climate change is at the heart of this magnificent recording of The Angry Garden by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and City of London Choir, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton. With a beautifully poignant libretto by poet and author Simon Rae, and enhanced by four outstanding soloists, this five-movement work explores the world from its creation through to its potential destruction by human action. Silvered Night, for piano and orchestra and featuring an exhilarating performance from one of the UK’s leading pianists, Mark Bebbington, is based on a work for solo piano to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
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|Artist profile and catalogue of works - Michael Stimpson|
Recorded in 2019 and featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of London Choir, and pianist Mark Bebbington, conducted by Hilary Davan Wetton, this CD contains the monumental choral work The Angry Garden and the more reflective Silvered Night for piano and orchestra. The Angry Garden was written and recorded to highlight the issue of climate change.
|The Angry Garden|
|1||The Dark Mirror|
|3||Through Spawn and Spore|
|5||The Mirror Cracked|
The Angry Garden
On the 8th March 2002, the English Concert Singers and Orchestra conducted by Roy Wales, have a triumphant world première performance of Michael's new work for choir and orchestra at St. John's Smith Square. The Angry Garden is a five-movement work based on a text prepared by poet Simon Rae. The environment forms the basis of the work, in particular its current uncertainty. From the silence of creation and Eden's garden, to a human mass almost out of control, this piece argues that time is short.
I was aware of damage to the environment during my studies as a scientist in the early 1970’s, but I am not sure when general abuse turned into major threat. Neither am I sure when for me it became an emotive issue, but now it is clear that it connects to the very being of civilisation. For this reason, The Angry Garden takes a longer-term view, the Earth and human action seen within a broader and somewhat detached perspective, reflected in the title which implies that the world has a personality, one which does not like what is being done to it.
The first movement, which had a working title of ‘Creation’, appears from nothing other than the wind. The feel is edgy and ethereal, the minor second being the important interval, most powerful at the words “that would nail God's palm to Time”. The second movement, ‘Eden’, is light in character, more reminiscent of a dripping rain forest than that of Adam and Eve.
The third movement, built around the age of the dinosaur, not surprisingly is heavy and ponderous, but with a majesty that reflects the grandness of the inhabitants. Man’s entrance is in the fourth movement, via an instrument that represents early civilisations, the didgeridoo. The choir has ‘primitive’ sounds, gradually constructing the vowels of the Western alphabet. From here the tension builds, phrases such as “more mouths, more land” and “turn up the heat” providing the driving force.
The effect of Man was held for the final movement, the crushed semitone reappears as ice creaks under off-beat motifs within the strings. This section ends with the words “the signs of change”, but of equal import is the gentle singing of “and so the prophecies have come to pass”. It was tempting to finish with the warmth of this passage but it seemed a luxury inappropriate to the subject matter, and my own feelings. Wherever one's beliefs lie, nothing is forever, and the opening words of “Stillness Darkness Emptiness Silence” draw the piece to its close, ending where it began, with the wind.
Silvered Night has a background of historical conflict as it was based on a work for solo piano, Variations on Papaver Rhoeas, written to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. Papaver Rhoeas is the Latin name of the Remembrance poppy, and this solo piano piece had been set in the shape of the flower, four variations (petals) surrounding the central black core. Although Silvered Night opens with music from the first variation, and uses some of the last variation as a small cadenza, it is the central core of Papaver which provides the bulk of this new work for piano and orchestra. Certainly, elements of the conflict still exist in Silvered Night, the aggression of the early stages with it’s short motif for one, and the quiet, rather eerie central section which ends with a peaceful elegy, a dove emerging from the broken landscape.
But just as the time of the anniversary has moved on, so has Silvered Night. The introduction of new material, the adjustment of shape and texture, all bring it closer to the more traditional piano concerto form. Certainly I still recall Siegfried Sassoon’s evocative phrase, “the slow silver moment” but now it is tempered by the span of time, not forgetting but moving on, as exemplified by the majesty and light which closes the piece.
|Title:||The Angry Garden / Silvered Night|
|Tracks:||See panel above|
|Artist:||Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
City of London Choir
Hilary Davan Wetton - conductor
|Instruments:||Orchestra & Choir / Solo Piano|
|MCPS:||MSCD005 / 5024545930924|