Sir Henry Walford Davies’s Everyman

Fanfare for the Common Man
Mussorgsky arr. Rimsky-Korsakov
Night on a Bare Mountain
Prince Igor – Polovtsian Dances

Elena Ferrari (soprano)
Jennifer Johnston (contralto)
Andrew Staples (tenor)
Pauls Putnins (bass)

London Oriana Choir

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
David Drummond

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 February, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Not so much “A Lost Choral Masterpiece”, as the publicity would have it, Everyman is more “mislaid and interesting”. Often performed in its early years until the original publisher, Novello, lost the orchestral parts, Everyman was last heard in London in 1929, and last played at Reading University in 1982. If Everyman is not quite a masterpiece, it was good to hear it; congratulations to all concerned for reviving it – and for associating with male cancer “safeguard”, Everyman.

Davies’s musical setting of a text with it share of anachronisms is very much of its time – Everyman was first given at the 1904 Leeds Festival – and comparison is inevitably, given the subject matter, with Elgar’s already-written Dream of Gerontius; and, indeed, the opening of Sir Henry Walford Davies’s oratorio has a Gerontius-like pallor.

Stylistically, Everyman is a work of its Victorian era, Davies (1869-1941) – immortalised by his splendid RAF March Past – neither apes nor escapes the ’musical air’ of the time or disowns his Royal College of Music, Parry and Stanford, background. Davies must have known Gerontius and, in turn, he anticipates Elgar’s The Kingdom (1906) while acknowledging Wagner, Brahms and Berlioz.

Playing continuously for an hour, Everyman actually seemed shorter, which credits its forward-moving design, and although there are some moving moments, and some personal touches, not least telling key-changes at significant moments, one hears Davies’s influences rather more than total distinctiveness as a ’recognised’ composer.

This fine performance, although tuning between chorus and orchestra wasn’t always impeccable (which therefore may have slightly muddied some of Davies’s harmonies), displayed the excellence of the London Oriana Choir (warmed by an equable account of the Polovtsian Dances) and the integration and sensitivity of the Kensington Symphony Orchestra (which played well a rather careful Bare Mountain and forceful if rough-edged Fanfare); the various string solos were well taken. The four soloists were first-rate. Pauls Putnins, who as Everyman has the biggest sing, brought his smooth, mellifluous bass voice to the part in compelling fashion. David Drummond conducted with commitment and focus.

A recording is planned of Everyman, on the Dutton label, which is good news – Everyman will now be a document rather than a memory.

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