2014 marks the centenary of World War One and in an unusual, yet fitting, step The Three Choirs Festival – an event with a long tradition of nurturing some of Britain’s finest composers, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Delius et al. – has chosen to commission Rasch, a German composer, to commemorate the occasion. This major 40-minute work, for choir, soloists and orchestra will be premiered in the summer of 2014.
As a taster of this large commission, four short songs by Rasch were premiered at this year’s Three Choirs Festival. The song cycle, which features poetry by A. E. Houseman, Alun Lewis and Ivor Gurney, explores experiences of war both at a general level and a very personal view. As the composer writes: ‘While the outer songs seek for an ‘immediate comprehensibility’ and are also kept more or less simple in its accompaniment, the central songs aim at a deep expressiveness of the personal experience.’ The songs were commissioned by Anwen Walker and were premiered by acclaimed baritone Roderick Williams in the ancient surroundings of Gloucester’s Blackfriars Priory.
‘Rasch's elegant simplicity and directness of expression put the words in sculpted relief, initially lulling the listener into a sense of security. This was soon dispelled when the dark night of which Housman warns reached a sudden peak in Lewis's lines: "And Death the wild beast is uncaught, untamed." This setting, from Postscript: for Gweno, had a startling potency.The frisson which came at the end of the cycle, with the gentle anguish of Housman's line "And we were young", was all the stronger for being an echo of Richard Sisson's setting of the same poem, How Dead We Lie, in the opening cycle So Heavy Hangs the Sky.
The Guardian (Rian Evans), 1 August 2013