STONE RECORDS 5060192780055
Ronald Corp is Britain’s most prolific choral conductor-composer, and with this work he breaks fascinating new ground. The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha transmitted orally before being written down 2,000 years ago. Set for small choir, it becomes a beguiling work, full of scrunchy dissonances but graceful to the ear.
Michael Church, Independent, January 29th, 2011 – ‘Album of the Week’
The Music Dhammapada, sayings attributed to the Buddha, presents ideals of the good life. Its simple words elicit calm contemplation, directing the path followed by Ronald Corp in his exquisitely fashioned chamber choir composition. The composer catches echoes of Howells and traces of Whitacre yet his personal voice unfolds throughout with honesty and grace.
The Performance The eight voices of Apsara invest their considerable collective experience in establishing a rich and clear sound. Their tonal palette spans the gamut from ethereal purity to romantic warmth, applied with discrimination and admirable good taste. Corp’s sonorous response to Francis Booth’s English Dhammapada translation calls for excellent vocal blend and line, admirably achieved under the composer’s direction. Field recordings of temple bells, cymbals and sounds of nature, which Corp deploys to link his score’s eight choral movements, emerge here as integral both to the work’s musical structure and spiritual atmosphere.
The Verdict Everything in life will decay, the Dhammapada reminds us. There is, however, something of the timeless about the present treatment of this key Buddhist text, an artless quality informed but not stifled by western choral tradition.
Andrew Stewart, Classic FM magazine, April, 2011 – Five Stars
Stone Records now follow up their CD of The Songs of Ronald Corp with this Buddhist sequence to words by Francis Booth (b. 1949). I learn from the very basic notes that the Dhammapada is ‘The Buddha’s path to truth’ – a manual for living, and a hand held up against materiality. The singing is alternated with tracks featuring a rich range of bells recorded by Booth at locations sacred to Buddhists. The sung texts are in English apart from the ‘Buddham saranam gacchami’ (track 2). All the words are printed in the booklet. I had half expected the singing to be spare and even skeletal; nothing of the sort. The writing mixes white, open, aureate tones familiar from the English cathedral-pastoral tradition of Holst and Howells with Oriental shadings and profound bass notes. There is about it perhaps a touch of John Tavener – certainly it is from the same broad shelf. Ambiguous tonalities arise from deeper notes sliding and slipping like tectonic plates as they hum around the white lambent upper line. In ‘Dhammapada 1’ and ‘Dhammapada 2’ there’s a striking slow-motion ululating chant which evokes joy. The bell tracks are in large part ‘stopped’ and have hardly any of the luxury that surrounds resonance. The opposite applies to ‘Sarnath’, to the ringing ‘Ting-Sha’ and to the deeper gong tones of ‘Sravasti 3’. In ‘Dhammapada 4’ the reverential tone is broken by the ecstatic playfulness of ‘The world is like a bubble on a pond’ – very fast and smiling. This is a reverential, life-enhancing yet unassertive sequence that will please followers of Corp and the world’s many choirs and their audiences. It makes a fitting companion to Dutton Epoch’s Forever Child CD and a contrast to the same company’s disc of Corp’s orchestral music. Let us hope that we will not have to wait long for recordings of Corp’s major choral-orchestral works.
Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International, January, 2011
Sixty in January, Ronald Corp made a name as a conductor, especially of choral music, before his true ambitions as a composer came to the fore. A modest clutch of recordings of his music has marked his birthday, including his latest choral work, which was first performed in public last month. An hour long, and unaccompanied except for recordings of temple bells and chanting that provide interludes between the movements, Dhammapada (‘the path to the truth’) sets one of the central texts of Buddhist thought – sayings by Buddha himself that were passed down orally for 500 years before being collected together and written down – in an English version by Francis Booth. The result is curious: Corp’s musical style is firmly anchored in Anglican choral tradition. It is significantly indebted to Britten especially, and creates a dissonance with a text that explores such a profoundly non-western philosophy of life. Much of the writing for the eight voices of Corp’s own choir, Apsara, is poised and beautiful, and some may well find it far more rewarding than I do.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, March, 2011