Jointly composed by Nigel Hess, Roderick Williams and Shirley J Thompson, Be Thou My Vision, commissioned for the Coronation of King Charles III, was performed on 6 May at Westminster Abbey by the Coronation Orchestra conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano. It was released on Decca as part of the Official Coronation Album - you can stream Be Thou My Vision here.
The orchestral triptych is based upon one of King Charles' favourite hymns. Set to a traditional melody, the text was originally written by the early Christian Irish poet Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century, and is one of the oldest hymns in the world.
Hess opens the piece with a stirring horn call inspired by the vaulting architecture of the Abbey and its expansive acoustic, before a lush, Romantic rendition of the Irish hymn tune, which subsides into Roderick WIlliams' rhapsodic realisation of the 'Slane' tune leads into Shirley J. Thompson's finale. Hess described the opportunity to write for the Coronation as "a complete thrill".
Hess has a longstanding artistic relationship with the Royal Family. In 2007 he composed a ballet score after The Old Man of Lochnagar, a children’s story written by the then Prince of Wales in 1980, commissioned and premièred by the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain. The same year saw the premiere of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra from Lang Lang, commissioned by The Prince of Wales in memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother. Hess was also honoured to be asked to arrange and direct the music for the late Queen’s private 90th birthday celebration at Windsor Castle and for the then Prince Charles' 70th birthday dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Hess is renowned as a composer for television, film, and the concert hall. His celebrated scores include music for the 2004 film Ladies in Lavender, and A Christmas Overture, commissioned by John Rutter and premiered by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Be Thou My Vision is tenderly done and tenderly written with the hymn front and centre and the style typically English (George Butterworth and Frank Bridge) if exuberantly hybridised with Canteloube and Rimsky.
MusicWeb International (Rob Barnett), 22 May 2023