Full Review of "Of Times and Seasons" by Peter Lea-Cox


The English organist and composer Peter Lea-Cox studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London before becoming, from 1967 to 1972, Assistant Music Master at Oundle School, Northamptonshire. From 1973 to 1986 he was on the staff of the Royal Academy of Music where he taught choral conducting, sight singing and harmony. From 1973 to 1986, he was Director of Music at St. Jude-on-the-Hill Church in Hampstead Garden Suburb in London and has served as organist at St. Mary-at-Hill Church in the City of London. From 1987 to 2004 Lea-Cox served as Director of Music at the Lutheran Church of St. Anne & St. Agnes in the City of London.

Lea-Cox is an accomplished recitalist who has given organ concerts in Britain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the United States. He made his twenty fourth organ recital tour of Denmark in 2011. In 2011 he made his eighteenth musical tour to the United States and, earlier that year, was guest director of the De Swaen Barokensemble performing Bach Cantatas and other works at the Oude Lutherse Kerk in Amsterdam. He has given organ recitals at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral in London as well as Washington's National Cathedral.

He has also performed with the Lecosaldi Ensemble at Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral. In October 2004, he gave the twenty seventh annual recital in the distinguished Paul D. Wickre Memorial Concert Series at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has broadcast on Britain's Radio Three as well as making recordings of organ and instrumental music. Lea-Cox conducts the Camden Chamber Choir and other choral societies as well as serving as a tutor at the annual Oxford Baroque Week.

He has composed many vocal and instrumental works as well as compositions for organ. He uses the pseudonym “Lecosaldi” when composing in the baroque style of Handel and Telemann and uses “Lea-Cox” when composing in a contemporary idiom.

Divine Art Recordings have just released a new recording of songs and anthems by Peter Lea-Cox performed by the soprano Lesley-Jane Rogers and pianist Jennie-Helen Moston.

Peter Lea-Cox's Six Songs of Gerald Manley Hopkins opens with Hurrahing in Harvest , with a lovely flourish on the piano and a very spring like feel, very much in the English tradition of song writing, with an attractive slow central section. Spring is a very attractive setting, whilst Pied Beauty is an extremely striking setting of verses that must have been a challenge to set. Thee, God, I come from, to thee go is a hymn like setting that has an Elizabethan and even a Vaughan Williams feel. As Kingfishers catch fire is an evocative setting and the final song in this set The Windhover returns to a faster tempo with a lovely piano part from Jennie-Helen Moston. Lesley-Jane Rogers has a lovely pure voice but does seem rather strained in the upper register.

This is a quintessentially English song cycle which gains so much from the thoughtful and effective piano writing. These songs deserve to be included in English song recitals.

Noël Nouvelet is the first in this collection of Eight Seasonal Anthems, a terrific Easter anthem that deserves to be in constant use. Again the piano part is so effective. Lesley-Jane Rogers is particularly beautiful in the quieter second verse. Behold, the Herald's voice is calling opens with repeated, gentle chords sensitively played. Here Rogers is most effective in this lovely Advent piece. Crown Him, Lord of Lords is a rousing Ascension anthem and God's Word is our great heritage is for Reformationtide, a timelessly English piece. A beautifully peaceful Baptised into your Name, most Holy is so fine in its simplicity. Saviour, when in dust to you is a Lenten anthem, somewhat melancholy, in another fine setting that rises up in the middle. Come before the Saviour's table has a lovely simplicity, more a song than anthem in feel, but lovely nevertheless and again with some lovely piano phrases. Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn is an uplifting Christmas anthem to end this collection of anthems.

Jennie-Helen Moston plays a short piano work by Peter Lea-Cox entitled Cathedral at night which is a quiet, effective, atmospheric piece.

Finally on this disc are eight Collected Songs commencing with Let the Season lift your spirit , a setting of verses by Katherine Foyle, a song that highlights Lea-Cox's ability to vary the music to create the exact feeling for the words. The Clod and the Pebble is a setting of Blake, beautifully done, again with such an effective piano part. The same applies to Lea-Cox's setting of T S Eliot, Winter Prelude that completely conjures up the feel of winter. Afterwards is an accomplished Hardy setting with such feeling and sensitivity for the words, whilst Sailing to Byzantium , a setting of W B Yeats, has a jaunty, even jazzy opening before moving to a more thoughtful tempo. Interestingly, in verse four, Lea-Cox almost hints at the Londonderry Air, no doubt touching on Yeats' Irishness. Like the touch of rain, a setting of Edward Thomas, is exquisite with a lovely piano part. Garlic and Sapphires is another setting of T S Eliot, again showing such sensitivity to the text. Baby Sleeping ends this attractive collection and is a lullaby on the Christmas story, a really charming song.

This is a very attractive collection of songs and anthems that deserve to be included in the repertoire. As usual from Divine Art, the booklet is beautifully produced with notes by Lesley-Jane Rogers and Peter Lea-Cox together with full texts. The recording is excellent. Though I have certain reservations about certain aspects of Lesley-Jane Rogers' voice on this recording, her singing is often really lovely in the quieter and more gentle passages. I do urge all those interested in English song and church anthems to hear this disc.

MUSICWEB (John France)

This new CD of songs by the composer, musical director and organist Peter Lea-Cox presents a wide-ranging exploration of English verse, songs and religious texts in what is a largely, but not entirely, traditional musical language. The songs extend in mood from the soft dissonance of Winter Prelude (T.S. Eliot) to a catchy setting of Katherine Foyle's Let the Season lift your Spirit . These numbers will appeal to listeners who enjoy the vocal music of composers such as Gerald Finzi and John Ireland, the emphasis being on a sensitive fusion of words and music.

I enjoyed the six Gerard Manley Hopkins settings, which were conceived as a song-cycle. The date of composition is not given. I recognise that these extremely familiar words must be exceedingly difficult to set in a convincing and novel manner. Peter Lea-Cox has adopted a Finzi-like setting of most of these texts, which will remind the listener of that composer's Dies Natalis . There is a good contrast between the lyrical and the declamatory. Typically, the songs reveal themselves slowly: they tend to avoid strophic repetition. The largely syllabic settings of these words are particularly effective. I did not like the hymn-like setting of Thee, God I come from, to thee go - it is in danger of sounding like RVW's Linden Lea . Unfortunately, the liner-notes give no analysis of these songs. It is as if they have been forgotten.

I am old-fashioned. I do not agree with the premise that ‘solo songs' can be substituted for the choral anthem at Matins or Evensong. It is but a short step from this to choruses accompanied by guitars and synthesisers. It probably has its place – but not in any formal liturgy. The present Eight Seasonal Anthems were written in 2005 for use in the Lutheran Church in London: the texts were culled from that denomination's Book of Worship . In themselves these are delightful songs that slip between an almost Andrew Lloyd Webber-y ‘pop' feel to RVW/Holst folksong and back to something a little more profound. The effect is typically thoughtful. I would suggest that this set of eight songs actually makes a good ‘song-cycle' that could be presented in a church-based recital.

There is a short ruminative piano prelude that has crept into the batting list. It is a fine example of a gently atonal piece that nods to Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie . I certainly hope that there is more where this came from.

I enjoyed the ‘collected songs' best of all. Usually, when a poet issues his or her ‘complete poems,' it will include scraps, juvenilia and ‘uncollected' fragments. When it is a volume of ‘collected' poems it refers to a carefully edited selection of their major achievements. In the case of Peter Lea-Cox's ‘Collected Songs' I understand that they have been judiciously chosen from a huge pile of manuscripts. The introduction suggests that the date of composition of these eight songs covers a period of two decades. I do not believe that they are meant to be heard as a cycle as they are too diverse and lack a musical or literary theme. These cover a wide range of poetical and musical emotion. They are settings of poems by a broad selection of writers including T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats and Edward Thomas as well as those who were members of the composer's church.

I had not heard any music by Peter Lea-Cox before reviewing this disc. I was aware of his exploits as an organ recitalist and as the founder of the Lecosaldi Ensemble and his directorship of the Camden Chamber Choir. When he was director of music at St. Jude-on-the-Hill Church (1973-1986), he composed a number of anthems and canticle settings. During his time at St Anne's & St Agnes City Church he produced a ‘huge corpus' of short choir pieces and ‘offertories' for solo voice and continuo. These were used at Sunday morning worship. One of his larger achievements is four ‘Passions'. These balance modern and baroque idioms. I understand that he has also written a number of Chorale Preludes for the organ in a variety of contrasting styles.

Lesley-Jane Rogers gives an outstanding account of these songs. Her voice is well-suited to the variety of moods and styles required. Her strength lies in holding an effective balance between the more forceful and extrovert numbers and those that are intimate and reflective. The accompanist Jennie-Helen Moston - does everyone associated with this CD have a hyphenated name? - makes a valuable and sympathetic contribution to the proceedings. The liner-notes are good with the above mentioned exception. The sound quality is ideal.

I suggest that these three groups of songs be taken as distinct entities. This is not a CD to listen to from end to end. In case anyone thinks I am being unkind, I would take the same view of a disc of songs by Schubert, Britten or Ireland. Explore slowly and enjoy the diversity on offer here.