When David Heard that Absalom was Slain

Motet for SSAATTBB chorus a cappella

forces: SSAATTBB Choir
duration: Ca 12'00"
2008
published by: Composer

There are two homophonically-paired solo soprano parts within the final bars alone, featuring a high and exposed entry. Assured soloists are essential. The second bass part is low-lying and requires resonant low notes.

Composers' Note

This work was commissioned for the St Louis Chamber Chorus under its conductor, Philip Barnes, by John and Gailya Barker in memory of their parents. Its première took place within a programme conceived on the theme of Winchester Cathedral, with which Christ Church Cathedral in St Louis has special links (an inscribed stone from Winchester Cathedral is set into one of its walls and its reredos is a copy of the 19th century original at Winchester). The choice of text was made in order to juxtapose this new setting by a recent member of Winchester Cathedral Choir to the much earlier one by Thomas Weelkes, Organist at Winchester College for a few years beginning in 1598 (and subsequently Organist at Chichester Cathedral).

This modern setting attempts to respond to the timeless grief of a parent mourning his or her child, and to bring this sympathetically into line with resonances of a contemporary world where such private grief is all too frequently brought to universal attention through intrusive coverage by news media. At the same time, the music seeks to respect the aesthetic and technique of the setting by Weelkes -and also that by Thomas Tomkins, prized yet more highly by the present composer. (Tribute should be paid here also to the fine contemporary setting by Jonathan Rathbone).

When David Heard  has been performed by the Vasari SIngers under Jeremy Backhouse in Bath Abbey and in Canterbury Cathedral.

Composers' Note

Reviews

The St Louis Chamber Chorus has a marked affinity for the English choral tradition. This put an extra shine on their sold-out concert Sunday afternoon at Christ Church [St Louis] Cathedral. …As usual, artistic director Philip Barnes assembled a thoughtful, imaginative programme.

…The afternoon’s biggest moments came at the end of the first half and the end of the concert, respectively. The first was the reconstruction, by Craig Monson of Washington University, of John Sheppard’s 1554 setting of Psalm 128, Beati Omnes.
…The other was the world première of Francis Pott’s When David Heard. With its text from 2 Samuel, it expresses King David’s anguish over the death of his son Absalom in a haunting, beautifully complex setting for eight parts that took the listener through a spine-tingling emotional journey. Barnes has a gift for matching composers and texts with his choir; Pott is another fine find. …[and] there is not a better choir in St Louis.

Sarah Bryan Miller, Classical Music Critic, St Louis Post-Dispatch, Tuesday 15 April 2008

When David Heard is a 12-minute setting of words, adapted from the Second Book of Samuel, describing King David’s grief as he learns of the death of his son. Francis Pott’s music is further evidence of this composer’s vivid and unusual aural imagination, as well as his dramatic sense. This is the first recording of this beautiful work.

William Hedley, International Record Review, October 2012

 

The disc concludes with When David Heard, an astonishing piece by Francis Pott. I first came across this when I was reviewing a disc that included Eric Whitacre’s setting of the same text. There’s much to admire in Whitacre’s setting but I feel that it loses its way in the middle, a trap which Francis Pott seems to me to avoid completely. Pott builds the music inexorably and in his writing it seems to me that he conveys on the one hand the raw emotion of King David’s grief and, on the other, the need for him to preserve regal dignity, at least in public. Eventually the piece achieves a searing climax on the words “Absalom, my son”, which sound as if they’ve been wrenched from the king’s heart. After this the music sinks back into the hushed, grave mood from which it first emerged. This eloquent, demanding piece is superbly performed. …This is a disc that should be investigated by all those who are interested in contemporary choral music.

John Quinn, Musicweb International, October 2012

 

 

The best performance on this Naxos release is saved for the last. This is an extraordinarily powerful account of When David Heard by Francis Pott. There have been so many wonderful arrangements of the text already…However, Pott more than justifies his inclusion amid such company with robust and muscular music…the Vasaris prove to be most eloquent interpreters of and advocates for Francis Pott’s music, and one hopes that they continue to champion this brilliant British composer.

Journal of the American Choral Directors’ Association, May 2012

 

I especially enjoyed Francis Pott’s When David Heard, an intense, grief-wracked setting of the Old Testament text… Here the raw, lacerating emotions of personal loss are laid bare for the listener in searing harmonies and tight, tensely contesting intervals. The Vasari Singers grip the work with evident relish and commitment, producing the CD’s most potently arresting performance.

Terry Blain, BBC Music Magazine, October 2012

 

I’ve been enjoying Francis Pott’s music quite a bit of late and his very daring setting of the text When David heard that Absalom was slain (famously set by Thomas Tomkins in the 17th century) is marvellous. This is a powerful setting, particularly the way Pott sets King David’s cry “Absalom my son!”

Craig Zeichner, Ariama.com, USA, November 2012

 

Backhouse and his Vasari Singers perform this music to the manner born, with gorgeous tone that rejoices in the rich harmonies and fluid part-writing. Pott’s Tomkins-inspired When David Heard is a particularly effective reading.

Philip Reed, Choir & Organ, 2012

 

Francis Pott’s When David Heard is a lovely, austere work of compelling character.

Robert Cummings, Classical.net, 2012

Philip Barnes, Journal of the American Choral Directors’ Association, May 2012

The best performance on this Naxos release is saved for the last. This is an extraordinarily powerful account of When David Heard by Francis Pott. There have been so many wonderful arrangements of the text already…However, Pott more than justifies his inclusion amid such company with robust and muscular music…the Vasaris prove to be most eloquent interpreters of and advocates for Francis Pott’s music, and one hopes that they continue to champion this brilliant British composer.

Reviews

Recordings

1

Gabriel Jackson: Requiem

Vasari Singers / Jeremy Backhouse

Naxos Naxos 8.573049  x   2011

more recording details...