GILES SWAYNE (b.1946): Stations of the Cross, Books I and II.
Catalogue Number: 04V060
Label: Resonus Classics
Description: This hour-long suite comprises fourteen movements representing the fourteen stations of the Via dolorosa. As an atheist, Swayne treats the Passion as a human tragedy - the symbol of the mother grieving for the horribly tortured and killed son that recurs throughout history, every time we have a war, for a start - and thus his approach is dramatic rather than liturgical. The music is, predictably, dark and confrontational, and although far from atonal, amply dissonant. Swayne has in fact constructed a series of octatonic modes of which two are used in each movement, with a semitonally rising keynote for each successive piece, giving the work a sense of labored uphill progress. The composer studied with Messiaen, and although his music sounds substantially different from that of the French maestro some significant points of contact are unmistakable and unavoidable, and it’s probably fair to say that if you’re a fan of Messiaen's organ music you will probably find this rewarding. Like Messiaen, Swayne uses organ textures, registration and voicing in unconventional ways; the persistent sense of a slightly 'alien' non-tonal modality is also reminiscent of the older composer, as is the saturated, dissonant, non-functional tonal harmony for dramatic and coloristic effect. Swayne was inspired by the early 20th century neo-medieval Stations of the Cross by Eric Gill in Westminster Cathedral, London, with their clean, uncluttered composition, which is apparent in the music's sculptural blocks of material. Simon Niemiński (organ of St. Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh).