The first performance of Dover Beach was by the BBC Singers at St. Giles, Cripplegate in 2003. Voces Cantabiles recorded the work in 2005 on the Dutton Epoch label.
When I was asked to write a piece for the BBC Singers I seized on the chance to set Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. I had long wanted to set this poem, and now decided that the piece would be almost quarter of an hour long, scoring it for eight-part choir with optional children’s voices (that part is sung by a soprano soloist on the recording). The poem suggested a work in various sections that are related to each other, and framed by music representing the waves lapping the shore and the repetition of the words ‘the sea is calm tonight’. The piece was recorded by the BBC Singers under my direction at St. Giles Cripplegate in 2003.
Reviews of the recording
The most substantial offering on Ronald Corp’s Forever Child CD is a setting of Matthew Arnold’s poem, Dover Beach, so memorably set previously by Samuel Barber. Corp’s version is highly atmospheric. The piece is the most complex on the disc and sounds far from easy to sing. It’s for eight-part choir and towards the end, in the section beginning ‘Ah, love, let us be true’, there’s a most effective additional part for a children’s choir. Here that part is sung, most effectively, by a solo soprano. For the most part the pulse of the music is slow and it sounds haunting, though there is a quicker, lighter section at ‘Sophocles long ago’. The concluding section is gravely beautiful and at the end Corp brings the work full circle by reprising the music with which everything began.
John Quinn, Musicweb
The setting of Dover Beach stands out among this collection of agreeable, expertly fashioned choral works. Written for the BBC Singers in 2003, it seems likely to cling to the poem, to recur in the mind when the words are read or spoken, in a way which I have not as yet found to be so with other and better-known versions. Especially haunting is the third verse’s melancholy ‘retreating to the breath of the night wind’. But each section has its own strong impulse, always working within a unified, well controlled structure. Even its return to the opening lines at the end has its musical justification, though it weakens the poem’s powerful conclusion.
John Steane, Gramophone