Gardner: Ballad of the White Horse

Ballad of the White Horse 190 x 190

John Gardner

Ashley Riches, baritone
BBC Concert Orchestra
City of London Choir
Hilary Davan Wetton, conductor

John Gardner (1917–2011) was one of those English composers who is generally assessed as being under-rated. This latest disc from the adventurous EM Records label firmly puts the case for Gardner’s music to be reassessed and more widely heard. ‘The Ballad of the White Horse’ is a major choral work which has remained largely unheard since its first performance in 1959. It is a spectacular work, inspired by the Chesterton’s epic poem telling the story of King Alfred’s defiance of the Viking invaders in the 9th Century. As the review of the première said, it is “music that is a pleasure for [the choir] to sing and easy for an audience to appreciate. But this simplicity masks a wealth of ingenuity in invention and treatment”.

For track listing and audio excerpts, please visit

EAN 5 060263 500544


BBC Classical Music Magazine ****

“EM Records’ second disc devoted to John Gardner is dominated by The Ballad of the White Horse, a 50-minute cantata in eight movements first heard in 1959. Drawing on Chesterton’s epic poem of the same name for its text, it putatively tells the story of King Alfred and the Danes. The title refers to the Uffington horse, which Chesterton and Gardner use as a barometer of England’s ethical purity, both then and in modern times. Unlike Gardner’s earlier works, The Ballad of the White Horse is self-consciously conservative in style, reminiscent of the less abrasive aspects of Britten, Vaughan Williams or Walton.

An attractive and well-crafted work, it is easy to understand why Gardner regarded it as his most successful cantata, especially in a performance as committed as this. Ashley Riches is a commanding soloist, his diction never losing clarity in the various places where he moves the story on, such as at the heart of the longest movement, ‘The Harp of Alfred’. The City of London Choir and Paulina Voices sing with rousing gusto in the more rambunctious passages, such as ‘The Battle of Ethandune’, yet with control and hush in the numerous mysterious or poetic moments, such as the barely accompanied opening of ‘The baptism of Guthrun’. Both here and in the purely instrumental and charmingly quirky An English Ballad (1969), the BBC Concert Orchestra is typically assured and nuanced, while Hilary Davan Wetton paces the performances adroitly.

MusicWeb International

“The combined choral forces of the City of London Choir and Paulina Voices sing with skill and commitment while Ashley Riches is an effective soloist. The colourful orchestral score is safe in the hands of the BBC Concert Orchestra.”

John Quinn
For full review, click here