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WWI Centenary concert

Monday 10th September, 2018


Concert by Three Spires Singers and Orchestra, Saturday 10th November

In November 2014, Three Spires Singers played an important part in Cornwall’s marking of the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, staging two performances of Britten’s War Requiem. In that poignant masterpiece, Britten’s economical, unsentimental style vividly picks up the directness of Wilfred Owen’s poetry as it spares nothing in relaying the true horror of the front line, challenging the familiar, comfortable words of the Latin mass in the process. We know from feedback how moved both audience and performers were by both performances.

 Four years later, we are turning to the music of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Finzi and Ireland as we offer different perspectives on the war in a concert that honours the sacrifice of those who died on both sides and looks forward to a time when “nation shall not lift up a sword against nation”.

 Elgar’s The Spirit of England is just under half an hour long and in it we hear the fully mature composer, at the height of his powers, reflecting on the noble sacrifice of those who died “with their faces to the foe”. He sets three poems by Laurence Binyon, including For the fallen, with its stanza still quoted at most remembrance services today, “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn”. The poetry is from the first few months of the war and the emotionally-charged music, sometimes majestic, sometimes desolate, is from a couple of years later.  

 Vaughan Williams served in the army in the First World War and his cantata Dona Nobis Pacem was composed in 1936, as tensions were building towards the outbreak of the Second World War. He draws predominantly on words from the nineteenth century by the humanist poet Walt Whitman, as well as the Bible, to craft a narrative that forcefully reminds us of the all-consuming suffering not only of those who fought but also of their loved ones at home. In the third movement, Reconciliation, he considers the equality of suffering on both sides – “For my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself is dead” – before various Old Testament verses lay out their vision of a new heaven and a new earth where “righteousness and peace have kissed each other”.

 The other three works in our concert come from around the time of the First World War – Elgar’s intense five-minute orchestral work Sospiri, was composed in August 1914; Finzi’s beautiful Eclogue for Piano and Strings comes from the 1920s and will feature Jonathan Carne as the piano soloist; and Greater Love by John Ireland was composed in 1912 and was taken up by many church choirs two years later, when the sentiments of its text about sacrifice resonated with the mood of the nation.

 We have a large orchestra and wonderful soloists joining us for what I know will be a powerful occasion.

Christopher Gray, Music Director


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