If Ralph Vaughan Williams were composing today, he might have a style similar to Oliver Davis. When the two sopranos and rhythmic strings of Chillingham first played in my Spotify feed, I had no choice but to stop what I was doing and listen, transported from my sterile white desk in Manhattan to a spring day on the coast of England, striding through a manicured garden towards the ocean.
There’s an elevated purity to Davis’s music that is still rich with emotion. It’s particularly English, in the same way that Wordsworth’s plainspoken but deeply felt portaits of the Lake District are, or the landscapes in the background of Kit Williams’s paintings. The greens are pure, the edges of the world are smoothed, and the charms of the old world are somehow resuscitated.
The location evoked in my first listening is specific. Chillingham is a village near the North Sea in England, and it’s also the title of the poem by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (grand niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge) that Davis set to music.
The words, like the music, are a wish to be transported:
Strike, Life, a happy hour, and let me liveBut in that grace!I shall have gathered all the world can give,Unending Time and Space!