Album ReviewsReviews

Review: Richard Moult - The Secret Joy (2005)

moult_tsjartist: Richard Moult
release: The Secret Joy
format: CD
year of release: 2005
label: Cyn­feirdd
dur­a­tion: 32:34

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com.

Richard Moult is an Eng­lish com­poser and painter, who, besides many solo works, has worked with Cur­rent 93 and is cur­rently a part of Far Black Fur­long. But this album, released by Cyn­feirdd, focuses on his own com­pos­i­tions of neo-romantic clas­sical songs. It ulti­mately ori­gin­ates in Richard’s set­ting to music of poems by Mary Webb, a Eng­lish writer from the early 20th cen­tury. The com­pos­i­tions are gen­er­ally from before 2005, when this album was released, and a num­ber of these poems fea­ture in other releases by Moult (Pres­ences and There Are Four Sides to the Night). The Secret Joy was recor­ded live in the church of St. Mary Mag­dalene in Bleddfa, Wales. Piano was per­formed by Nich­olas Chalmers and the vocals are by Kathy Taylor-Jones (mezzo-sop­rano) and Kate Hop­kins (sop­rano). 

So, as I said, the album con­sists of set­tings of poems, most of them by Mary Webb, except for “Wolfram’s Dirge” (Thomas Lov­ell Bed­does) and “Now Are the Hills Born New in Spark­ling Light” (Ivor Gurney). As they are pieces for vocals and piano, I am quickly reminded of Franz Schubert’s works like Die Schöne Müllerin and Die Win­ter­re­ise. Not just because of the instru­ments used, but also because of the music in gen­eral. I think it’s safe to say that Moult is heav­ily inspired by romantic com­posers like Schubert, while not becom­ing a copycat of that earlier style. I did­n’t write neo-romantic for noth­ing above, and I think it’s plain that there are also a lot of mod­ern influ­ences aud­ible in the com­pos­i­tions. For me, that bal­ance between old new sounds very pleas­ant, as does the music in gen­eral, by the way. Moult cre­ates mov­ing melod­ies with sweep­ing dynam­ics, in both the vocal and the piano depart­ment.

The pieces are, on aver­age, rather short, like the poems - often giv­ing brief impres­sions of nature and romantic spir­itu­al­ity. I guess you have to be a true romantic to be able to appre­ci­ate many of these poems; they describe the won­der and sub­lime feel­ings of the poet when con­fron­ted with the smal­ler beau­ties of nature. Most of the time, I can relate very much with what’s going on, though to be hon­est, I am not par­tic­u­larly fond of clas­sical voices, and for me they cre­ate a dis­tance from the sub­ject mat­ter, rather than an involve­ment. For me, nat­ural sub­jects call for a more nat­ural approach to singing, if there is such a thing. At times, thus, I think the vocals are dis­tract­ing from the inher­ent feel­ings of the poems and music. Nev­er­the­less, there are many places in which this album works extremely well, such as the open­ing track and “Like a Poppy on a Tower”. The three final tracks are each excel­lent as well. “Wolfram’s Dirge” is a slightly darker, louder piece, and it reminds me of Schubert’s Die Win­ter­re­ise most of all. “Now Are the Hills Born New in Spark­ling Light” is the track where I feel the music, words and vocals work together best - a mar­vel­lous piece. “The Sedge-Warbler”, finally has a quite won­der­ful piano melody.

While this clas­sical approach to roman­ti­cism is not neces­sar­ily my favour­ite one, I respect and under­stand what Richard Moult tried to achieve here, and I think he has suc­ceeded admir­ably. By the way, the album cover and little book­let of this digi­pak all hint at the mar­vel­lous paint­ings by Richard - I would have liked to see more. So, if you’re a romantic soul, you should give this album (and his other com­pos­i­tions) a try, espe­cially if you enjoy the clas­sical inspir­a­tions of this album.

Reviewed by O.S.

1. Pres­ences (4:20)
2. A Hawthorn Berry (2:45)
3. Dawn (1:39)
4. A Sum­mer Day (1:44)
5. A Night Sky (3:23)
6. Like a Poppy on a Tower (1:09)
7. The Shell (2:12)
8. The Snow­drop (2:26) 

The Secret Joy:
9. I Rose­ber­ries (0:56)
10. II A Rainy Day (1:04)
11. III Be Still You Little Leaves (1:44)
12. IV The Secret Joy (1:39)

13. Wolfram’s Dirge (2:51)
14. Now Are the Hills Born New in Spark­ling Light (2:35)
15. The Sedge-Warbler (2:07)