CR054-Cover-1024 The Girl From Aleppo

Cecilia McDowall: The Girl from Aleppo (CR054)

Review by Will Todd

Listen and buy now on Convivium Records

I greatly enjoyed listening to this new 5 movement cantata, commissioned from eminent British composer Celia McDowall by the National Children’s Choir of Great Britain and conducted by Dan Ludford Thomas on this premiere Convivium recording.

With words by Kevin Crossley-Holland the cantata is based on a book of the same name written by Christina Lamb and Nujeen Mustafa, whose real life story it is. A useful note in the booklet contextualizes the work and the narrative, necessary, as, in a work of only 20 minutes, it would be impossible to deliver every nuance of the original book. Crossley-Hollands and McDowall make good choices of some notable moments in the overall story to hang the movements on.

Overall the performances are very strong with haunting and powerful solo material from Harriet Mackenzie (violin) underpinned with excellent piano accompaniment by Claire Dunham. The writing for the youth choir is very appropriate in that the music allows them to have great impact whilst being mindful of their ranges and technique level. There is a nice mixture of vocal effects (wind in movement one, the waves in movement three), unison and  divisi upper voices writing and an SATB movement allowing the young tenors and basses to also feature. Throughout the music is characterized by relatable melodies which make the text very clear. Full marks to conductor and choir trainers as The National Children’s Choir of Great Britain give us a great sound throughout regardless of texture or rhythmic complexity.

The music has different moods – haunting in the opening violin solo,  sometimes energetic and fearful (4. A Lost Tribe…) at other times lilting (3: I’d Never Seen The Sea Before…) and finally celebratory in the final section. This is a very emotional piece, dealing as it does with migration and disability and the impact , whilst gentle at times ,is strong in revealing it’s messages. The opening chorale ‘this wreath of words is what we have…’, reprised at the end, connects the act of singing and words to the intensity and pain of the original story without making light of, or in anyway undermining it. The Girl From Aleppo is a work in which the desires, fears, uncertainties and  courage of Nujeen Mustafa and her family are properly represented and sung throughout with genuine feeling and emotion.

Will Todd, May 2020

Further information

Convivium Records

Convivium Records

Convivium Records (est. 2009) is committed to working with exceptional artists and composers to record and share their music. It recognises that a great recording project needs to establish a balance between artistic aspirations and commercial expectations. In addition to commercial releases, the label takes on private projects for schools, charities and other institutions.

Convivium Records involves musicians and composers in all decisions relating to their projects. For instance, this may include initial discussions about a new album, to recording, distribution, promotion and marketing.

At the heart of Convivium Records is a dedicated team, each of whom bring their expertise to projects as required. Above all, the Label’s ambition is to exceed the expectations of their clients by creating recordings that reflect their true potential.

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