Kenneth Leighton – Orchestral Works Volume 2/Hickox

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Symphony No.2 (Sinfonia mistica)
Te Deum laudamus [orchestral version]

Sarah Fox (soprano)

BBC National Chorus of Wales

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Richard Hickox

Recorded 27 & 28 November 2007 in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: January 2009
Duration: 57 minutes



From bier to pit
And be shut in it
Then lies my house upon my nose
And all my care for this world goes.

Central to the melodic and harmonic material of the symphony is the well-known hymn “The Shining River” which although not quoted in full until the end of the extensive last movement (a magical moment in which a soaring soprano combines with the chorus quietly intoning the hymn tune). The work begins with a ghostly reflection of the first bars of the tune that develops into something serious and profound. The six-movement structure includes a central pattern of scherzo-slow movements-scherzo, a favourite Leighton device, his scherzos are here sardonic, brilliantly orchestrated and even a little sinister. The slow ‘Meditation’ is a radiant and glowing soprano solo, sung quite beautifully by Sarah Fox. Under Adrian Partington the BBC National Chorus of Wales has become deeply impressive with singing crisp and rhythmic and with superb diction. Hickox and BBCNOW make the best possible case for this touching and deeply felt work that really shouldn’t have languished in obscurity for so long.

The short setting of the “Te Deum” is one of two English settings of this lumbering text that Leighton made – this one in 1964 for a festival service honouring St Cecilia. It makes a good contrast to the symphony showing Leighton in a different mood – with dancing cross-rhythms and bright trumpets there is more than a hint of Waltonian ceremony, but ultimately Leighton is his own man, bluffer and more gritty than the older master.

This is Volume 2 of Leighton’s Orchestral Music (following on from the wonderful Organ Concerto), but with Richard Hickox no longer with us, will there be further instalments? Piano Concerto No.2 would be very welcome. For the present, this disc of first recordings is highly recommended.

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