The cloud of unknowing

Pott, Francis ORCID: (2007) The cloud of unknowing. [Composition]

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Oratorio (89 minutes) for tenor solo, double chorus and organ, collating sacred and secular texts and taking its title (also the text of its Epilogue) from an anonymous late-14th-century mystical tract.

Item Type: Composition
Additional Information: Reviews of the premiere and the CD recording: The Times [Richard Morrison]: One sometimes writes, hyperbolically, of a performance moving one to tears. But at the end of Francis Pott’s The Cloud of Unknowing, genuine tears were shed. …A heartfelt plea for reconciliation and tolerance is very much the theme of Pott’s oratorio. But the work is far from being simplistic peace propaganda. The 48-year-old draws his texts from the psalms, war poets, Blake and other visionary writers, and a mystical mediaeval tract. These are arranged in such a way that mankind’s instinctive tendency to lash out at enemies or perceived enemies is continually, and often ironically, contrasted with individual man’s capacity for heroism and self-sacrifice, as epitomised by the Crucifixion. Often the tenor (James Gilchrist, superb) takes the part of human conscience, crying in vain against the chorus’s war-cries. But in the glorious epilogue it is the chorus that calls for a “blind stirring of love”, in a stupendous outburst of rich polyphony –wave upon wave, gloriously sustained. Pott’s musical style is tonally based, richly chromatic and laced with telling dissonance. It is also thoroughly grounded in the English oratorio tradition, with reminiscences of Elgar, Walton and Tippett –though some exotic passages in the huge organ part (wonderfully delivered by Jeremy Filsell) sound closer to Messiaen. …A sincere, intelligent and admirably unsensational meditation on the darkness at the heart of man, The Cloud of Unknowing deserves a concert life beyond this moving performance. The Church Times [Roderic Dunnett]: The icing on the cake at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music was Francis Pott’s new oratorio The Cloud of Unknowing. …When I arrived at St Pancras’ Church I could not have been more richly rewarded. …A beautifully conceived, thrilling oratorio, skilfully collated. The early stages of the work, extracted from the famous passage in revelation about the four horsemen of the apocalypse, were as chilling as Franz Schmidt’s remarkable setting of the same words (in The Book of the Seven Seals) almost 75 years ago: Pott does, indeed, evoke something of a ‘musical Armageddon’, much in the spirit of the powerful climaxes of his massive work for organ, Christus. The impressive management of dynamic and emotional transition effected by Francis Pott, both in his design and in his increasingly skilled orchestration, picked this out as a gratifying new work. Tempo [Jill Barlow]: The Cloud of Unknowing …evoked a spontaneous standing ovation from a discerning audience at its world première by the Vasari Singers at St Pancras Church …on 13 May 2006. …The work’s emotive, apocalyptic vision defies analysis, so broad is its scope in terms of place, time, and cultural orientation. … As the composer describes in his programme notes, just 24 hours after Jeremy Backhouse telephoned him to say the première would be in St Pancras Church ‘a bomb detonated on a bus [Tavistock Square, 7/7/05] brought carnage to the very steps of that building’. In his very opening stanzas, the tenor [soloist] sets the scene of foreboding with the words: ‘Now as though God were sighing, a shadow lengthens … Something evil will strike’. The prescient nature of this phrase –written some months prior to 7/7 –intoned in this quiet church at the première, just around the corner from Tavistock Square and directly opposite Euston Station, took the audience almost ‘outside time’ in its impact. …Pott manages to embrace the horrors of war, but also plumb musically the depths of its aftermath. …It is unusual for a choral work of this length, with quasi-religious overtones, to receive such rapt attention throughout, and evoke such in-depth emotional response from performers and audience alike. …This prescient war-torn oratorio should enter the repertoire as an apt epic of our time. Reviews of the CD release by Signum Recordings, September 2007: James Gilchrist, tenor solo; Jeremy Filsell, organ; Vasari Singers; Jeremy Backhouse, conductor: This disc seems likely to prove an apotheosis for Vasari, such is the prodigious care with which they tackle Pott's passionate and apocalyptic masterpiece. However, to describe the music as 'moving' somehow seems as unsatisfactory as to sum up the tragedies Pott evokes as 'shocking' : just a word. Rather, there is a meditative counterpart to this music, an experience which can really evolve only by taking it in a single hearing. This is something of a tour de force for Francis Pott and Jeremy Backhouse's Vasari Singers, and a disc of some distinction. International Record Review, November 2007 An instant winner. …Pott’s exciting oratorio is a must, and I wholeheartedly recommend this recording of The Cloud of Unknowing, an interesting and powerful response to the wars and atrocities of the past five years …The drama this challenging piece demands is captured by the brilliance of the performance… A powerful voice to demonstrate the conflict and instability of an uneasy world. A riveting and outstanding performance, and excellent recording. Organists’ Review Editor’s Choice, November 2007 [This] acclaimed commission for the Vasari Singers’ silver jubilee provides a 21st-century take on the dark soul of humanity. …Pott’s monumental, eloquent take on senseless violence and shameful hypocrisy offers a shield to the spirit against those who would destroy it. Unmissable. ***** Awarded five star recommendation Classic FM Magazine, September 2007 An extraordinary expression of Pott’s battle with ebbing faith, with a poignantly questing setting of Psalm 23, written as a response to the Beslan tragedy, at its heart. The tenacity and honesty with which [Pott] engages in self-debate are deeply moving, the humanistic interpretation of the Crucifixion as a symbol of the persistent suffering of Everyman tenable for people of all faiths and none. **** Awarded four star recommendation Tbe Sunday Times, September 2007 An immensely moving oratorio, written in response to worldwide conflict. Pott chooses texts from the Psalms, Blake, war poets and mystical tracts to illustrate mankind's capacity both for cruelty and self-sacrifice, setting them to music of great power and beauty. The Observer, pre-release review, July 2007 A recording I have been impatient to hear for some time. …[An] eloquent, hugely compelling work of great importance that not only stands firmly in the proud tradition of English choral music but also carries that tradition forward and enriches it. …[An] important artistic statement which carries a powerful humanitarian message to people of all political persuasions. …Pott maintains the tension and drama for page after page. The score is given a reading of white-hot intensity. James Gilchrist sings with burning conviction, as do the Vasari Singers. The virtuoso organ part played by Jeremy Filsell is beyond praise. A superb and thought-provoking issue. I can’t commend Signum highly enough for having the vision and the commercial courage to issue this recording. I listened, enthralled, to this major addition to the choral repertoire. John Quinn, Musicweb International, selecting one of his Discs of theYear 2007. Francis Pott's large-scale ‘Humanist Requiem’, as it may be termed, articulate[es] the composer's 'personal revulsion at the hollow eulogies of Western leaders mired in blood no less than those they would condemn', relative to those on-going conflicts threatening the world in the 21st Century's first decade. Such sentiments resonate strongly with many people and Pott's deeply felt, directly expressed score has considerable emotional impact. The juxtaposition of liturgical and non-liturgical texts reflects such examples as Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem and Britten's War Requiem. Musically, Pott's language will not offend either composer's admirers, for his work has clearly been irrigated from their examples, subsumed into a fluent, immediately expressive style. Musical Opinion, 2007 Ein Oratorium unserer Zeit Das Oratorium The Cloud of Unknowing des britischen Kom¬ponisten Francis Pott (geb. 1957) verarbeitet verschiedene Texte und musikalische Einflüsse zu einem tief bewegenden Werk, dessen Ethos an Michael Tippetts A Child of Our Time erinnert. Nach der Premiere wurde in England die Aufnahme mit großer Spannung erwartet. Bis zur ersten Aufführung auf dem Kontinent wird die Einspielung dem Werk sicherlich viele Freunde gewinnen. [The oratorio The Cloud of Unknowing by the British composer Francis Pott deploys diverse texts and musical influences in a deeply persuasive work whose ethos recalls A Child of Our Time by Michael Tippett. After the première the recording was awaited with keen anticipation in the UK. Pending the first performance on the continent the recording will certainly win the work many friends.] German internet review, 2007: Ein großartiges rezentes Werk, eine überragende Interpretation, eine makellose Einspielung. …Man kommt beim Anhören nicht umhin, an Benjamin Brittens War Requiem zu denken. Allein schon dies spricht für die Intensität und emotionale Kraft der Komposition. Sie muss zu den bedeutenden Schöpfungen des Beginns des 21. Jahrhunderts gezählt werden, denn sie wird zum Spiegelbild der Tragödie, die unsere Zeit durchlebt. … Francis Pott ist ein Humanist, dessen zutiefst ergreifende Botschaft gehört werden muss. [A magnificent recent work, an outstanding interpretation, a faultless collaboration. …One cannot help thinking of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. In itself this testifies to the intensity and emotional power of the composition. It must be counted among the major works of the beginning of the 21st century, amounting as it does to a mirror image of the tragedy experienced by our times. … Francis Pott is a humanist whose deeply compelling message must be heard.] Guy Wagner, Pizzicato Record Journal, Luxembourg, November 2008. The disc received a Supersonic Award.
Subjects: Music
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Depositing User: Rod Pow
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2012 14:48
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:16

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