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  • Bristol Chamber Choir

June 2021 - John Merriman


Calon Lan - Words by Daniel James, Music by John Hughes (Morriston Orpheus Choir ) You can't be born in Wales and not be immersed in its treasury of hymns, sung with passion, even if many singers don't understand the lyrics and are celebrating a try, not personal salvation! My late mother had one dedicated to her by a local composer in Aberdare (kindly transposed for her funeral by Gordon!) However I've chosen probably the best-known, a hymn about purity of heart whose words were composed by a Swansea man (also known by his bardic name) and here sung by a male voice choir based a mile away from where Gwyrosydd was born.




Rogues in a Nation - Steeleye Span My undergraduate years coincided with the boom in Folk Rock. No party was complete without 100 people testing the resilience of some Clifton floor bouncing up and down to Fairport Convention's Jigs and Reels! After that I spent a year in Dundee helping some of the poorest people I ever met, but working alongside some of the kindest. There I think I learned something of what it's like to be Scottish.

This song is burned in my mind both for its passion and its robust harmony. While it's sung by Steeleye Span, the words were written by Robert Burns, describing with beautifully crafted venom the sell-out of Scotland's independence in 1707 by wealthy and powerful men who had lost their fortunes in Scotland's disastrous Darien Adventure in Panama but were bailed out by the English in return for giving up their nation's freedom in a one-sided merger. Resonates with events nearer our time, too...




Concierto de Aranjuez - Rodrigo (Miles Davis)


I'm not a jazz freak. However I could listen all day to Miles Davis's trumpet playing. This whole album - Sketches of Spain - recorded in 1960, exudes what I imagine to be 'Spanishness'. I feel the dry cracking heat of summer, with lizards darting everywhere, overlaid with the sudden excitement of a sparkling fiesta. In fact Rodrigo composed it to capture the natural sounds of the gardens at Aranjuez laid out by Philip II but it was tempered by personal tragedy as World War II approached. What Miles Davis then did with it was...magic!




Bogorodyitse Dyevo (Ave Maria) - Rachmaninov No self-respecting 2nd bass (or 3rd bass if singing from the extended score) could contemplate a desert island without one of the most famous pieces of Russian choral music ever composed. (My luxury item would be a modest acoustically resonant space to sing it in!) Rachmaninov apparently wrote this and the other works in his 'Vespers' incorporating many of his beloved Russian folk melodies, which he rightly anticipated would be repressed by a forthcoming revolutionary government. However he soon shook off his nostalgia by moving to America where he terrified everyone by recklessly driving his Cadillac about!




Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - JS Bach (54 Cathedral Organists)

You can't possibly go to a desert island without Bach and I spent far too long agonising about which work to choose. This won because I was amused to see this recording, made recently by organists in cathedrals and chapels as far apart as Scotland and America to raise money (£22,000 apparently) for 'choirs in need'. However they say that one measure of a work's quality is how amenable it is to adaptation, so if you press me for the rendition which thrilled me the most at the time it was three buskers playing it on accordions at the start of a snowstorm in Krakov!




Desert Island Discs is a radio show first broadcast first broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme on 29 January 1942. It's now broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and hosted by Lauren Laverne. You can find more information here.

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