Three Songs Tennyson Sung - Jo Kondo

Three Songs Tennyson Sung

The strange innocence of Jo Kondo’s music finds a perhaps surprising pre-echo in the words of the great nineteenth-century poet. First, however, comes a short instrumental ‘Avant-propos’ to set up a typically Kondoesque sprightly line of constantly changing harmony and colour, the seven players all in the middle register, opening the door to the delightful puzzle. Then comes a lullaby, ‘Sweet and low’, where simplicity (especially in the narrow vocal span) meets oddity, with a refrain for solo viola. The second song is contrastingly fast and ranging, the last again slow. Just one of the work’s curious features is that the piano has so little to do – barely more than to repeat now and then its chimes from the prelude, and thus at the end to close the charmed circle. (By the way, the less usual but perfectly correct ‘sung’, rather than ‘sang’, was chosen by the composer for its slightly archaic quality.)

Paul Griffiths

‘It was bold of Kondo to set three of Tennyson’s rapturous lyrics, and it was intriguing to hear their high-flown diction filtered through the delicate tracery of his music’
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

‘On paper it looks like a 15th-century motet by Ockeghem; but the sound is modern-lyrical, reflective not graphic: the splendour doesn’t fall on Kondo’s castle walls and the horns of elfland blow always, not just when summoned.’
Stephen Walsh,

‘… Kondo’s settings from Tennyson’s “The Princess” had a wistful transparency, reminding us of the poet’s lyric qualities.’
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

First performed by BCMG conducted by Oliver Knussen and with soprano Claire Booth on 13 March 2011 at CBSO Centre, Birmingham.