A new disc featuring premiere recordings of Julian Anderson’s Heaven is Shy of Earth for mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra and The Comedy of Change for 12 players has been released on Ondine records. Susan Bickley joins the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for the oratorio whilst the London Sinfonietta perform the latter. Both works appear in live recordings conducted by the late and much-missed Oliver Knussen. Full details of the disc can be found here.
Heaven is Shy of Earth, sets poems by Dickinson alongside the High Mass and Psalm 84. Commissioned for the 2006 BBC Proms (where The Sunday Times described it as ‘a revelation’), this 30-minute ‘secular mass’ is a beautiful and beguiling work. In 2008 it won a British Composer Award, then in 2010 it was extended with a further movement, ‘Gloria (with Bird)’, which highlights the piece’s intention to reflect and celebrate the natural world. The Comedy of Change is a work for 12 instruments which pays tribute to Charles Darwin and celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book The Origin of Species. The composer intended the work to function as both a free-standing concert piece and the score of a ballet. Anderson was concerned with both the inevitable and the unpredictable aspects of change.
The recording is supported by the PRS Composers’ Fund and is the second Anderson portrait disc from the Ondine label, after the Gramophone Award-winning disc of orchestral and ensemble music back in 2007.
In other recording news, a recent disc of Anderson’s choral music from The Choir of Gonville and Caius, Cambridge and their Music Director Geoffrey Webber has been named as one of the top 100 Recordings of the Year in the Sunday Times, and Editor’s Choice in BBC Music Magazine. Released on Delphian, the disc includes the first commercial recording of the Bell Mass. A disc of chamber music, with the Nash Ensemble, will be recorded in 2019.
'A startlingly effective piece, with the ringing chords, references to birds and outside sounds, and the sacred texts almost seeming to invoke Messiaen. The choral writing is distinctly Andersonian and the solos for mezzo soprano Susan Bickley seem to pre-echo parts of his opera Thebans. A solo flugelhorn and the special tunings for some instruments are very effective touches...'
BBC Radio 3 Record Review (Andrew McGregor), 1 December 2018
‘Heaven is Shy of Earth is a substantial work of intriguing paradoxes. Its opening flugelhorn melody evokes Copland’s spacious landscapes, yet the delicately stretched orchestral tunings place this music in the 21st century. It sets words of the mass but its point of departure, poems by Emily Dickinson, makes this more a celebration of natural creation. Gloriously uplifting and luminescent, it has dark threads and exudes both a striking simplicity and a numinous complexity. In this searingly beautiful performance , Bickley soars magnificently while the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are on top form, from the fizzing and chattering textures of ‘Gloria (with Bird)’ to the chorus’s sublimely sustained final chord… The Comedy of Change provides a marked contrast. The Skittishly spartan, yet detailed, abstract textures of this ballet are full of life in this evocative performance from the London Sinfonietta. Anderson’s long-time friend Oliver Knussen, who died in July, conducts both works, and these live performances stand as a testament to his fine ear, finely judged pacing and selfless advocacy.’
BBC Music Magazine (Christopher Dingle), Christmas 2018
‘[In Heaven is Shy of Earth the] Latin Mass sits beside Dickinson verse and the compound shines out in an Andersonian way, comprehending both Britten and Tippett. The Comedy of Change is a glitteringly inventive score.’
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 4 November 2018
‘This excellent CD fills significant gaps in the Anderson discography. At the same time it reminds us of the huge gap left by the death of Oliver Knussen… [In Heaven is Shy of Earth] an orchestral introduction sets the stage for what might have been called an ‘Epithalamium’ or wedding song, built around and expansive melody written for the couple to whom the whole work is dedicated. That joyous spirit permeates the remarkable equilibrium of Anderson’s response to God-centred choral liturgy – as vivid here as in his Bell Mass – as well as to Dickinson’s fervent hymings, in a sequence of more earthbound but arresting aphorisms… [The Comedy of Change] revels in the mysteries and miracles of the natural world, with the exuberant yet eloquent thrust of music designed to affirm rather than bemoan. In both pieces, Anderson’s feeling for the bridges that can be built between music’s timeless acoustic essentials and present-day transformational resources is unfailingly distinctive and acute.’
Gramophone (Arnold Whittall), December 2018
‘A reminder of what a sophisticated and multifaceted voice Anderson possesses… Heaven Is Shy of Earth opens itself in a variety of expressive directions, yet never sounds like something we've heard before. Everything is penetrated by an enchanting sound world and a living rhythm.’
Hufvudstadsbladet (Mats Liljeroos), 13 November 2018