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CANTATA: A LIFE TO GROW
A cantata for SSATB chorus, baritone and (light) soprano soli, piano and brass octet.
Constructed in the form of an arch, and centralising on a lively setting of Psalm 100, there are cross-references to themes in several of the movements to unify the work.
The opening movement is a short prelude for brass octet. Setting the mood for the cantata as a whole, it also presents material that will re-appear in succeeding movements.
The second movement, And there were shepherds, sets verses 8-11 from St Luke’s Gospel, chapter 2, which the baritone presents expressively, supported by an obligato French horn and simple piano chording in Bb minor.
A key change to a brighter D Major is used to announce the angel, and another modulation brightens still further into Bb major for the female voices to enter confidently: Fear not! Behold good tidings of great joy I bring to you.
The male voices take the melody, building to a climax, at which point the introductory material returns, this time with the choir singing in counterpoint with the baritone. The movement ends with three jubilant alleluias, the trombones reminding us, fortissimo, of the opening melody.
The central movement, for choir and brass only, is an energetic setting of Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) in B minor. Using busy jazz-style rhythms and material from the Prelude, this movement is in ternary form.
The central section is quieter initially, and unaccompanied (for the Lord is gracious), but it reverts to a sudden fortissimo (And his truth endureth) for all forces, which then leads to a lengthy reprise and a triumphant conclusion in B Major.
The fourth movement, A Birth was Made, is another ternary structure, in G Major. It is a gentle setting for soprano solo, piano and (mostly) muted brass, of a poem by Pam Lambert which derides the commercialisation of Christmas and the devaluing of the Christian message.
The choir participates in the central section with a sped-up version of the soprano melody, now in triple time; and the filigree piano writing symbolises the excess icing and glitter, which denote our current celebration of this festival.
A return to the opening key allows the soprano to reiterate her first verse, this time extending into A life to grow, Lord Jesus, which gives the cantata its title.
The last movement, Gloria, for brass and chorus, is an extended reprise of the Prelude, this time setting the laudatory words, Gloria in excelsis Deo.
The Alleluias from the ending to the second movement are re-employed to provide an exultant conclusion and affirmation of faith.