As on previous occasions, new music featured strongly in last Saturday’s Proms Matinee from the Cadogan Hall, this time including the world première of a new work by Stevie Wishart: Out of this World, composed for the BBC Singers.
Earlier in the concert, music by Hildegard of Bingen had been heard, and it’s to Hildegard that Wishart has turned for inspiration, setting four of her texts, texts for which no extant music by Hildegard herself survives. Thankfully, pastiche is not on Wishart’s agenda, although various influences do make themselves felt at points through the piece. Opening song ‘O word of the Father’ is the most spare of them all, soft open vowels giving way to a cool and austere atmosphere in which the upper voices are silent. The male singers handle the chromaticism admirably, but the music could really do with the kind of acoustic Hildegard would have known; in the relatively echoless Cadogan Hall, some of the warmth is lost, and it sounds more severe than it actually is. The brief second song ‘O God eternal’ is much more engaging, with strong interaction between the upper and lower voices, the latter of which initially offer brief, strange sounds beneath, demarcating the pulse. It develops into a distinctly French kind of sonority, at times quite strongly redolent of Poulenc.
The two remaining songs are performed without a break, and are by far the most ambitious music heard in the piece. ‘O creation of God’ begins with rather gob-smackingly high and low clusters, a rare and distinctly unsettling sound. Somewhere within, there’s a melodic line moving, and gradually the outlying clusters slide inward, forming rich new chords. For a time the music becomes quasi-tonal (once again with a slight French accent), but at its conclusion, sends out assorted melodic tendrils that jar and interweave, searching out the final song, ‘O most beloved Son’. This begins in a rather ecstatic harmonic place, but swiftly moves into something entirely harder to describe; stylistically, it’s strange indeed, seeming to combine hints of earlier musics, elements from folk traditions, together with non-Western mannerisms—the whole has a passionate but raw quality that’s spellbinding. Wishart softens the intensity ever so slightly towards the end, fixing the singers above a distant drone-like foundation, and ends with an uncanny chorus of sibilance.