|To mark the 90th anniversary of the Mongomeryshire County Music Festival
Patrick Larley was delighted to accept the offer of a commission from the festival
committee to compose a new work for the choir. The Gentle Earth of Wales is a
cantata in nine movements drawing its inspiration from beautiful Welsh folk melodies and
from other texts by Montgomery-born George Herbert, and the fervent Welsh nationalist and
passionate advocate of the Welsh language, R.S.Thomas.
The title is from an evocative
11th Century anonymous quotation 'Guide for me my feet upon the gentle earth of Wales'.
These words, set to a hauntingly modal melody, which runs as a thread throughout the
entire work, set the scene in the opening bars sung by a solo voice from the children's
chorus. What follows is a counterpoint of lovely Welsh tunes, some lyrical and soothing,
some boisterous and uplifting, weaving their various paths through the instrumental and
vocal textures of the piece.
R.S.Thomas's poem The Other, sung by the baritone and accompanied by the
chorus 'rising and falling, wave on wave', can be found inscribed on a slab of Snowdonia
slate in the seaside village of Aberdaron in North Wales, where the R.S.Thomas served as
priest and where the sea crashes against the churchyard wall in waves that are born
'somewhere in the Atlantic'. The movement fades to nothing with the soloist on a mono-tone
over a motionless unison chorus, reflecting on 'that other being, who is awake too,
letting our prayers break over him............for eternity'
George Herbert's I got me flowers to straw thy way is a glorious Easter hymn
and is treated as such. In the final pianissimo bars it is difficult not to
discern the presence of Vaughan Williams and, in fact, throughout the work, because of its
reliance on modal folk melody hints of that great British composer are never far from the
Encapsulating tender settings of Lisa Lan and Suo Gan, and the humour
of Cyfri'r Geifr (Counting the Goats) and Sosban fach, the
cantata cadences, as it began, with the echoes of children's voices, (after a
side-stepping 5 in-a-bar All through the night) and the soloist's gentle
persuasion to 'sleep my child'........ Upon the Gentle Earth of Wales.