The Next Ocean features music by British composer Raymond Warren, including settings of texts by Seamus Heaney and Louis MacNiece.

The latter, a stunning five movement song-cycle for soprano and chamber orchestra In My Childhood, represents Robin Browning‘s most impressive album to date, recorded with members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (appearing under the name of UH Ensemble on this recording) alongside soprano Olivia Robinson.

Sample tracks from the album are available to listen here.

The complete recording can be downloaded from Apple Music and Google Play.

Original liner notes from the CD release are reproduced in full, below.

In my Childhood – Song Cycle for Soprano and orchestra

From the album The Next Ocean

These are three very different works from three different periods of my composing life, but they do pair up in some ways. The closest two are no doubt the first and the third, interpretations of the work of two great poets from the north of Ireland, where I lived for seventeen years. I knew Seamus Heaney quite well – we were both young lecturers at the Queen’s University of Belfast – and I thought of him then, before his coming to international fame, as essentially a deep-rooted Irish country poet. He didn’t want his poetry to lose its own “music” by being sung, and I was happy with this because, as an outsider to his tradition I felt I could not readily penetrate it with my music so closely. Hence the decision not to set his sequence as song but instead to have the poems read and to bring out their almost ritualistic long term structures with the use of overlaid piano interludes.

I never met Louis MacNeice, who had left Ulster well before my time there. Unlike Heaney, he was a multi-rooted international figure but his cosmopolitanism was given an intense emotional edge by the memories of his Irish childhood which largely occupy the poems I chose here. I did actually set the first poem while I was living there, on hearing of his death in 1963. At that time it took the form of a small choral In Memoriam. This was re-written some thirty years later as the song to start the cycle. I found MacNeice’s vivid imagery very suggestive of musical gestures and have been surprised that so little of his poetry has been set to music.

Between these two the piano sonata may seem a rather distant neo-classical work. It is linked via the piano of course to the Heaney sequence, though stylistically it is rather closer to the final songs and there is also another connection. Whereas the sequence is essentially circular in structure (for at the end we come back to our starting point for the next season), the sonata is linear, ending with a passacaglia which takes the earlier material into new ritual dance music. The last song of the MacNeice cycle, from which the CD takes its title, has something of the same effect. Its almost obsessive 5/8 rhythm creates a new kind of ritual whose repetitions, I can only hope, will be felt to match the wonderful verbal repetitions of the poem.

Raymond Warren