One of this summer’s most anticipated new works, Torsten Rasch’s A Foreign Field received its world premiere on 31 July 2014 at Worcester Cathedral as part of the Three Choirs Festival, bringing together an impressive array of artists: soloists Yeree Suh (soprano) and Roderick Williams (baritone), the choristers of Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester and Chemnitz Cathedrals, the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of conductor Baldur Brönnimann.
Commissioned jointly by the historic Three Choirs Festival and Germany’s Chemnitz Opera to mark the centenary of the First World War, Rasch’s 40-minute cantata takes its name from Brooke’s poem The Soldier and brings together poets from both sides of the conflict, Biblical psalm texts and parts of the Latin Requiem Mass to create a rich and extremely personal meditation which loosely follows the structure of the Anglican Evensong.
A Foreign Field once again proves Rasch to be a master of the large-scale canvas, displaying a dazzling array of orchestral textures together with an intuitive understanding of dramatic pacing. A former Dresden boy chorister himself, Rasch writes for the voice in a way which brings out every word’s expressive potential.
At the heart of this moving work is the relationship between Helen and Edward Thomas, especially the last night they spent together before Edward’s death on the Western Front in 1917. Rasch sets the poems Thomas wrote to her – ‘And You Helen’ and ‘Beauty’ – whilst the poet’s Welsh ancestry is referenced in ‘The Ash Grove’ melody which permeates much of the work’s second part. A moment of calm reflection in the midst of human suffering, Rasch’s masterful setting of Psalm 91 – the so called ‘Soldier’s Psalm’ which was carried by men on all sides of the conflict because it confidently prays for victory over the enemy – has already been singled out by critics for its daringly pared-back style and communicative power.
In March, A Foreign Field will receive two performances at the Städtische Theater Chemnitz by the Robert Schumann Philharmonie under Frank Beermann. A recording of the world premiere will broadcast on Radio 3 on Friday 19 September.
‘…full of chromatic harmonies slithering downwards like a world subsiding into chaos, and orchestral interludes that fiercely evoke the screaming shells and ear-shattering artillery as well as (in a magnificently moving, Berg-like ending) the heroism and sacrifice of the millions who died… the best movement is also the simplest: a superbly crafted, unaccompanied choral setting of Psalm 91.’
The Times (Richard Morrison), 4 August 2014
'One of the finest, most worthwhile premieres I have heard in many years… a gripping melding of frontline verismo, the tearing-apart of lovers, and desperately-needed compassion… '
The Birmingham Post (Christopher Morley), 4 August 2014
‘The musical score was as many-layered as the text. Washes of glittery metal percussion, creating an otherwordly atmosphere, sat cheek-by-jowl with a densely expressive texture that often harked back to Berg, or even Wagner.’
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 1 August 2014