January 2024 saw the release of a new recording of Daryl Runswick’s Four Nocturnes (1993 rev. 2010) for SATB chorus and ensemble of 9 players from conductor Ben Parry and New London Voices. The 30-minute work, released through Prima Facie, is available to stream here.
Four Nocturnes sets a broad selection of Byron’s poetry – all night scenes of one kind or another – for its quartet of episodes, which encompass the darkly gothic and risqué farce. Reflecting the playful-serious poles of Byron’s attitude, it opens with a quasi-scherzo (‘Donna Julia’) setting several stanzas from Canto 1 of Don Juan, in which the callow youth of the comic poem is seduced by a married woman; despite his attempts to hide from the suspicious husband, he is a discovered and ruckus ensues. The second nocturne – ‘Medora to Conrad’ – is a haunting lyric taken from The Corsair, in which a woman anxiously laments that she will die before her lover returns.
‘Incantation’ follows, an extended study in remorse taken from Manfred, in which the eponymous hero summons to him seven spirits who offer him wealth and power: he however seeks only forgetfulness. The seventh takes the form of a beautiful woman who vanishes as Manfred reaches out to touch her; an unseen voice then intones this incantation which moves relentlessly from spell to curse. The piece concludes with ‘She Walks in Beauty’, combining three short lyrics: She Walks In Beauty and There Be None Of Beauty’s Daughters are framed by the famous and much-set So, We’ll Go No More A Roving, which, unaccompanied, draws the Nocturnes to a final midnight bell and silence.
Four Nocturnes was premiered by the Woodburn Singers conducted by Stephen Jackson, in High Wycombe Parish Church, Buckinghamshire in 1993. The revised version was first performed by Trinity College of Music Chamber Choir, conducted again by Stephen Jackson, at St Alfege, Greenwich, in 2010.
Runswick is an accomplished composer and arranger of choral music, with Faber Music publishing works including Five English Folksongs for unaccompanied SATB choir, Symphony for Voices (1995), a 12-minute work for SATB a cappella and tour de force of extended vocal techniques, and I Sing the Body Electric for choir and tape, composed for Electric Phoenix in 1984, where he was tenor and resident composer from 1983-1998. Runswick has also been an key collaborator for The King’s Singers since the 1970s, arranging everything from Rossini to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon for the group.