Monday, 24 June 2013

Paul Lewis: Rosa Mundi for string orchestra

I was delighted to hear Paul Lewis’ miniature for string orchestra on Classic FM the other day. Rosa Mundi (The Rose of the World) was composed in 2003.
However, glancing at some contemporary reviews, I noticed that not everyone is as impressed with this work as I am.  The American Record Guide, for February 2007 suggests that Rosa is the ‘weakest work’ on the Naxos compilation disc English String Miniatures Volume 6.  The reason adduced is that Lewis presents a short motif which is then given four minutes of constant modulation...but without the inventiveness to stretch it into a tune.’  However he does concede that it is beautifully performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and their conductor Gavin Sutherland.  The reviewer of the Gramophone magazine (December 2006) suggests that Rosa Mundi is a ‘bit derivative,’ on the other hand it is ‘a beguiling recollection of lost love.’
Paul Lewis (b.1943) wrote the wistful Rosa Mundi at a time of great personal sadness when parting from a loved one.  He noticed a single rose blowing on a plant in his garden, which he had believed to be dead.  It is the lack of development and the insistence of the short motive phrase that intensifies this music into something timeless. I accept the fact that the sound world of this piece could have been heard any time over the past century, however it is this connection with tradition and the sheer simplicity of its design that makes this piece moving, almost heartbreaking, yet somehow full of hope. 
Rob Barnett on MusicWeb International has suggested that this work is ‘too sentimental to be anything else other than light music.’ I am not sure that this distinction really matters. However he adds that ‘towards the end it leans on the example of the great melting melody in Malcolm Arnold’s Fifth Symphony. It is a pertinent suggestion.

Rosa Mundi is available on Naxos 8.557753 and on Cameo 2045. It can be heard on YouTube

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