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A Celebration of Women’s Voices

Corvus Consort (vocal ensemble) and Louise Thomson (harp)

Corvus Consort’s upper voices team up with harpist Louise Thomson under the direction of Freddie Crowley to present a programme of glorious music for upper voices and harp, recently recorded as Corvus’s second album for Chandos Records “Welcome Joy”, due for release in September 2024.

Throwing a particular spotlight on women’s voices – both vocal and compositional – the combined ensemble performs music by Imogen Holst, Elizabeth Poston, Judith Weir and other talented living female composers, as well as Gustav Holst and a brand new commission from Shruthi Rajasekar.

Elizabeth Poston’s An English Day-Book is a fabulous cycle charting the course of a day in the English countryside, packed with strikingly vivid musical depictions of bells, clocks, songbirds, owls and a mischievous bumble bee. Its eleven short movements take the listener from the curfew bell through a dramatic night curse, to the brightness of morning, the calm of summer noon, and the elation of a hot summer’s afternoon, before returning to the cool of evening once more. Despite being composed and premiered more than 50 years ago, the work has remained unpublished until a brand new edition from pioneering music publisher Multitude of Voyces in 2024. Corvus Consort has had first use of this new edition, and was delighted to make the first ever recording of the piece by a professional ensemble, for the new album “Welcome Joy”.

Imogen Holst’s Welcome joy and welcome sorrow is a collection of six wonderfully vibrant movements, all settings of poems by John Keats which include characterful depictions of the rural Devon landscape. Her fabulous speech-like vocal lines are matched by brilliantly idiomatic harp writing, a skill shared by her father Gustav Holst in his renowned Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda. This masterful set of four luminous hymns exemplifies both his fascination with ancient Hindu mythology and his championing of women’s voices and musical education for women as Director of Music at St Paul’s Girls’ School for nearly 30 years. His dazzling Two Eastern Pictures date from the same period, and are similarly influenced by his close study of Sanskrit texts during that time.

Indian-American composer Shruthi Rajasekar was commissioned by Corvus Consort to respond directly to Gustav Holst’s use of the Rig Veda, producing her two new works Ūshas and Priestess, which both received their premiere recordings on “Welcome Joy”. Drawing on her dual training in the Carnatic and Western Classical traditions, Rajasekar was perfectly positioned to create a well-informed response to Holst’s treatment of ancient Sanskrit texts, reframed through a contemporary lens. Ūshas sets a Sanskrit text from the Rig Veda and explores the Namanarayani raga through improvisatory aleatoric textures, while Priestess uses a Latin text by Titus Livius to reimagine secret all-female gatherings in ancient Italian societies as “places where women could be together in joy”.

The programme is completed by a set of sublime works by living composers, commissioned by Multitude of Voyces as part of a project to mark International Women’s Day in 2019. Judith Weir, Hilary Campbell and Gemma McGregor set texts from Revelations of Divine Love by 14th-century ascetic Julian of Norwich (widely regarded to be the earliest surviving English language text known to be by a woman), while Olivia Sparkhall contributes an exquisitely atmospheric setting of Lux aeterna, the beautiful communion antiphon from the requiem mass.

Imogen Holst: Welcome Joy and Welcome Sorrow
Gemma McGregor: Love was his meaning
Hilary Campbell: Our endless day
Elizabeth Poston: An English Day-Book
Judith Weir: We sekyn here rest
Olivia Sparkhall: Lux aeterna
Gustav Holst: Two Eastern Pictures
Shruthi Rajasekar: Ushās (Goddess of Dawn)
Shruthi Rajasekar: Priestess
Gustav Holst: Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda (Third Group)
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