Montogmery County Music Festival



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The Gentle Earth of Wales

The Gentle Earth of Wales, from an inscription by John Rowlands PritchardTo mark the 90th anniversary of the Mongomeryshire County Music Festival Patrick Larley was delighted to accept the offer of a commission from the festival committee to compose a new work for the choir. The Gentle Earth of Wales is a cantata in nine movements drawing its inspiration from beautiful Welsh folk melodies and from other texts by Montgomery-born George Herbert, and the fervent Welsh nationalist and passionate advocate of the Welsh language, R.S.Thomas.

The title is from an evocative 11th Century anonymous quotation 'Guide for me my feet upon the gentle earth of Wales'.

These words, set to a hauntingly modal melody, which runs as a thread throughout the entire work, set the scene in the opening bars sung by a solo voice from the children's chorus. What follows is a counterpoint of lovely Welsh tunes, some lyrical and soothing, some boisterous and uplifting, weaving their various paths through the instrumental and vocal textures of the piece.

R.S.Thomas's poem The Other, sung by the baritone and accompanied by the chorus 'rising and falling, wave on wave', can be found inscribed on a slab of Snowdonia slate in the seaside village of Aberdaron in North Wales, where the R.S.Thomas served as priest and where the sea crashes against the churchyard wall in waves that are born 'somewhere in the Atlantic'. The movement fades to nothing with the soloist on a mono-tone over a motionless unison chorus, reflecting on 'that other being, who is awake too, letting our prayers break over him............for eternity'

George Herbert's I got me flowers to straw thy way is a glorious Easter hymn and is treated as such. In the final pianissimo bars it is difficult not to discern the presence of Vaughan Williams and, in fact, throughout the work, because of its reliance on modal folk melody hints of that great British composer are never far from the surface.

Encapsulating tender settings of Lisa Lan and Suo Gan, and the humour of Cyfri'r Geifr (Counting the Goats) and Sosban fach, the cantata cadences, as it began, with the echoes of children's voices, (after a side-stepping 5 in-a-bar All through the night) and the soloist's gentle persuasion to 'sleep my child'........ Upon the Gentle Earth of Wales.