Gardner: The Ballad of the White Horse
John Gardner (1917–2011) was one of those English composers who is generally assessed as being under-rated. This latest disc from the adventurous EM Records label firmly puts the case for Gardner’s music to be reassessed and more widely heard. ‘The Ballad of the White Horse’ is a major choral work which has remained largely unheard since its first performance in 1959. It is a spectacular work, inspired by the Chesterton’s epic poem telling the story of King Alfred’s defiance of the Viking invaders in the 9th Century. As the review of the première said, it is “music that is a pleasure for [the choir] to sing and easy for an audience to appreciate. But this simplicity masks a wealth of ingenuity in invention and treatment”.
John Gardner (1917–2011)
‘THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE’ (1958–1959)
(World Première recording)
BBC Concert Orchestra
City of London Choir
Ashley Riches, baritone
Hilary Davan Wetton, conductor
1. ‘The White Horse’
2. ‘The Northmen’
3. ‘The vision of the king’
4. ‘The gathering of the chiefs’
5. ‘The harp of Alfred’
6. ‘The battle of Ethandune’
7. ‘The baptism of Guthrum’
8. ‘The scouring of the horse’
9. ‘AN ENGLISH BALLAD’
(World Première recording)
Recorded at Air Studios, Hampstead. Released May 2020 (EM Records CD057)
For further details and audio extracts, please visit EM Records.
"...Does it all work? Indeed, given that Gardner was an instinctive composer for voices – eschewing the (wanton?) complexity of his relative contemporaries as well as that calculated simplicity all too evident in choral music of the present. Ashley Riches makes a forceful yet never unduly vehement contribution, while the City of London Choir and Paulina Voices respond enthusiastically to Hilary Davan Wetton, who steers ‘White Horse’ with audible conviction as to its cumulative structure and draws a feisty response from the BBC Concert Orchestra in An English Ballad. Is it recommended? Very much so. Often admired for his facility in writing carols and choral miniatures, Gardner was no less resourceful when working on a larger scale. Wide ranging sound and informative booklet notes (by the composer’s son Chris) round out what is an engaging and desirable disc."
"...An attractive and well-crafted work, it is easy to understand why Gardner regarded it as his most successful cantata, especially in a performance as committed as this. Ashley Riches is a commanding soloist, his diction never losing clarity in the various places where he moves the story on, such as at the heart of the longest movement, ‘The Harp of Alfred’. The City of London Choir and Paulina Voices sing with rousing gusto in the more rambunctious passages, such as ‘The Battle of Ethandune’, yet with control and hush in the numerous mysterious or poetic moments, such as the barely accompanied opening of ‘The baptism of Guthrun’. Both here and in the purely instrumental and charmingly quirky An English Ballad (1969), the BBC Concert Orchestra is typically assured and nuanced, while Hilary Davan Wetton paces the performances adroitly."