Leighton Every Living Creature SOMMCD 0667

Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988)
Every Living Creature
Laudes Animantium Op.61
An evening hymn (1979)
London Town (1968)
Lord, When the sense of the Sweet Grace (1977)
Three Carols (1948)
The Nativitie (1956)
A Hymn to the Trinity (1979)
Rebecca Lea (soprano), Nina Bennet (soprano), Ciara Hendrick (mezzo-soprano), Nick Prichard (tenor)
Finchley Children’s Music Group/Grace Rossiter
Londinium/Andrew Griffiths
rec. 2022, All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, UK
Texts included
First recordings: Laudes Animantium, London Town, Lord, When
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0667 [73]

I am a great admirer of Kenneth Leighton, not only of his choral music, some of which we have here, but also of his orchestral and chamber works. However, it is the choral music which is currently the most often performed, so I was surprised to find that here we have a major work, Laudes Animantium, which has not previously been either published or recorded, as well as some smaller pieces. Andrew Griffiths deserves credit, not only for these fine performances, but also for unearthing these works from manuscript sources and getting performing editions prepared. Others, including Leighton’s children, have been involved with this, and they all deserve our thanks.

Leighton’s idiom, for those who do not know it, owes something to Holst and Britten and also to the continental modernists, one of whom (Petrassi) he studied under. Listeners come to recognize his modal writing, his pungent harmonies and often biting rhythms and his liking for the sound of a solo soprano soaring above a choral texture.

Laudes animantium is much the longest work here, and performing and recording it was the main inspiration for this disc. It sets eight poems about animals, demonstrating Leighton’s great love of them. Most of the poems were taken from the 1965 Penguin Book of Animal Verse, and the cover of that book, Edward Hicks’s The Peaceable Kingdom, is also used as the cover picture here. There are two quick numbers, Calico Pie and The Grey Squirrel, two rather sinister ones, The Kraken and the Tyger, and the others are nicely varied, with the occasional use of soloists. The final Every Living Creature brings in the children’s choir at the climax and is a fitting culmination to a lovely work.

The Evening hymn which follows sets a complex passage by Thomas Browne and goes through a range of moods and tempi. This is followed by London Town, setting a rather silly poem by Masefield, much lighter in mood. Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace sets a poem by Crashaw. He was a Catholic convert in Stuart England and left to work on the continent. His poem is redolent of Counter-Reformation piety and receives intense chromatic writing; it is my favourite of the shorter pieces here.

Of the Three Carols, an early work, the first, Lullay, Lulla – best known as the Coventry carol – is well known and frequently recorded, but its two companions here receive their first recordings. The seven joys of Mary is medieval; the Marian emphasis might not endear itself to more Protestant congregations, but no one can take exception to Sleep, Holy Babe.

Nativitie sets a typically tangled sonnet by Donne in a way which clarifies it as much as possible, while the final Hymn to the Trinity brings the programme to a radiant end.

The performances here have been carefully prepared and sung with great devotion, with the chamber choir Londinium taking the bulk of the work with others as noted above. The recording was made in the sympathetic acoustic of All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak in London and the whole is a valuable contribution to the Leighton discography. Perhaps Andrew Griffiths could now take an interest in Leighton’s younger contemporary William Mathias, a rather similar composer. and consider mounting a performance and recording of his World’s Fire, which currently languishes unheard and unrecorded?

Stephen Barber

Previous reviews: Nick Barnard (June 2023) ~ Dominy Clements (July 2023) ~ Gary Higginson (August 2023)

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