Album Review

Posted: Sunday 9th September 2007
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Francis Pott: The Cloud of Unknowing – Muso

The Cloud of Unknowing has much in common with Briten’s War Requiem both works are lengthy (Francis Pott’s opus is pushing 90 minutes), inveigh heavily against the iniquities of contemporary armed conflict, use a range of texts for the vocal settings and are unrelievedly stark in the musical representation of their bleak message. Easy listening this certainly isn’t.

The piece is, however, treated to a magnificent CD debut here by the same team that premiered it a year ago in London. Vasari Singers is the choir that commissioned the piece and Pott creates for them a hugely testing series of scenarios to articulate, ranging from a setting of Psalm 137 (with its images of infant brains dashed against the stones) to the contrasting placidity of The Lord is my Shepherd, set for women’s voices alone. Both technically and emotionally the work is dauntingly demanding, but the Vasaris respond unflinchingly.

There are two other major protagonists. One is a tenor soloist, intended by Pott as ‘an anthropomorphic presence: part Christ, part Everyman’. It’s a long part and constantly taxing but James Gilchrist delivers it with huge distinction. The other is Jeremy Filsell, whose virtuoso organ accompaniment is virtually never silent and plays a major role in what one commentator has termed this ‘meditation on the darkness at the heart of man’.