Parhelia, or ‘sun dogs’, are atmospheric phenomena that create bright patches of light on either side of the sun. The piece is in two parts. The first, The Witnesses, presents four very different testimonies of seeing sun dogs, from pre-Christian Rome, and 14th and 15th-century England. Sung successively by solo sopranos, a solo tenor, tutti tenor and tutti sopranos they are separated by a wordless refrain (accompanied by triangles) that, at its third iteration, becomes increasingly embellished and desperate. Full of bare octave doublings and primeval drones, the music sounds ancient and atavistic, with an often primitive declamatory vigour.
The second part, The Beauty of This Miracle, is more impressionistic, setting a sequence of aphoristic fragments describing more recent sightings. The pace is unfailingly slow, the atmosphere rapt, the tone awed and refulgent, the tonality constantly shifting. A solo soprano doubled an octave higher by whistling is particularly haunting and supernatural presence in this mysteriously ineluctable skyscape.
— from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2013