The songs and anthems of Peter Lea-Cox (b. 1945), presented here in a disc entitled Of Times and Seasons, are eminently appealing. This is most distinctly the English pastoral school, with the very first of the Songs of Gerard Manley Hopkins invoking (in me) memories of Vaughan Williams’s gestures. There are echoes of Finzi here, too. The cleanliness and purity of Lesley-Jane Rogers’s soprano is perfectly suited to the music she sings (she also provides the excellent booklet notes), while Jennie-Helen Moston accompanies with superb sensitivity. Lea-Cox’s final gesture of the brief third song, “Pied Beauty”, is a properly climactic setting of the words “Praise him,” wonderfully devotional and effective. The chordal, hymnic “Thee, God, I come from, to thee go” affords full contrast. Rogers and Moston embrace its warm faith magnificently, impressive in their childlike simplicity.
I confess I made the mistake of thinking this was a mixed solo/choral disc when I saw the use of the word “Anthems.” These are solo anthems, however (how modern!). Still, it is clear that the Church (and God —the two not always as closely linked as religion would have us believe) are vitally important to Lea-Cox, who has held a variety of positions, including at St. Jude-on-the-Hill in North London. The Eight Seasonal Anthems (2005) is intended as a single set, its texts from the Lutheran Book of Worship. Lea-Cox also utilizes chorale melodies within the piano accompaniments (although sometimes in some disguise). These anthems are generally longer than the Hopkins songs, and although only by a minute or two, the difference is telling. The quiet piano introduction to the second song, “Behold, the herald’s voice is calling”, is most atmospheric and the entire song gives the impression of owning a space far beyond its four-and-a-half-minute duration. The restrained “alleluia” of “Crown Him, Lord of Lords” leads to a resolute statement of the title line as a well-earned climax. Most telling of these songs, perhaps, is the rapt reverence of “Baptised into your Name most holy” (the fifth song); the next song, “Saviour, when in dust to you”, expands the palette somewhat. Some of the harmonies perhaps threaten to move into a more popular genre before settling down into a more dramatic script. Moston is at her most communicative in the more open, celebratory sonorities of the final “rejoice, rejoice this happy morn.”
The solo item, Cathedral at Night (1971), is a mere three minutes long. Wonderfully atmospheric, it seems to be influenced by Ravel (no surprise then that the booklet notes link it to the Rouen Cathedral paintings by Monet).
Twenty years separate the earliest and most recent of the Collected Songs. Here the composer has selected eight diverse items. The mode of expression, predominantly tonal with Lea-Cox’s own brand of spice, is by now familiar. Lesley-Jane Rogers is excellently responsive to the various texts (there is a variety of poets on offer), whether in story-telling (“The Clod and the Pebble”,( text by William Blake) or dealing with the anguished dissonance of “Prelude-1” (Blake). She sustains the exposed, poignant lines of “Afterwards” (Hardy) stunningly.
The recording is excellent, particularly when it comes to preserving the warmth of the piano. The venue was the Jacqueline du Pré building, St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. A most enjoyable disc.