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Number two in a series of special edition whisky discussions to celebrate the upcoming Three Choirs Festival; July 23rd - 30th 2022 in the wonderful city of Hereford. An amazing festival that has been running across Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford cathedrals for more than 300 years. For the next few weeks I will be picking out certain pieces that are to feature at the festival and choosing one of my choice home drams to pair with it.

This week is Pietà by Richard Blackford, a prolific concert and media composer whose concert works are performed regularly around the world and his music for film and television is broadcast frequently in almost every European country.

The work is a setting of the Stabat Mater (a 13th-century Christian hymn to Mary, which portrays her suffering as Jesus Christ's mother during his crucifixion) with additional poems by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova one of Russia's most significant poets of the 20th century. The piece has a very large lineup of mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists, SATB chorus, children’s chorus, full orchestra and solo saxophone.

It was originally commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and St. Albans Choral Society (conductor George Vass) with support from the Nimbus Foundation and first performed on June 22nd, 2019 at The Lighthouse, Poole. It then went on to win an Ivor Novello Composer Award in 2020 for the Choral Category.

Pieta's performance at the Three Choirs Festival this year will be a fabulous festival premiere on Wednesday 27th July, Hereford Cathedral. A spectacular evening of colourful powerful music, I'll be there! and the wonderful saxophone soloist Amy Dickson who featured in the original performance and recording of the piece will also feature on the night! Find out more here.

The whisky I have chosen to pair with this beautifully crafted work is Lindores Whisky which has as interesting a background as the music does. The whisky has recognised links to the earliest written reference to Scotch Whisky over 500 years ago at Lindores Abbey. Back then Aqua Vitae was the known name for whisky and it appears in 1494 in the Exchequer Roll: a Brother John Cor, a Lindores monk, was commissioned by King James IV to turn 8 bolls of malt into Aqua Vitae. 8 Bolls of malt amounts to around 500kg and would have produced about 400 bottles of today’s whisky!

Vital statistics: This is the first bottling of Lindores Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky as the distillery released its first batch in 2021 on the same site where the whisky would have been made at the Abby 500 years ago. They use a strain of barley grown locally on farms surrounding the distillery and the water for their whisky comes from a borehole to draw from the same supply used in 1494. The Abbey was fed by several wells; such as the Abbots well, the Monks well, the Bluidy well and the Witches well. The whisky is matured in a combination of bourbon sherry and wine casks and this is a non-aged statement whisky with an ABV of 46%.

Appearance: Is very apple juice in colour, the whisky having had no colouring added, so this being is its natural tone. The legs are light and smooth suggesting this is a lighter whisky overall.

Nose: The aroma of the dram is mellow and soft compared to others I have shared recently and there is a scent of almonds and vanilla and also fruitiness in another direction.

Flavour: This is for me a great all-weather whisky it has a smooth texture, but soon becomes peppery and spicy on the tongue reminding me of the drama in the music, as the flavour lingers longer on the palate you get wood notes which must link to the tine spent in a bourbon cask. Simultaneously I get hit by soft apple notes in the background, very much like an apple creme brulee I like to make at home.

Summary: This is a whisky which links wonderfully to the origins of whisky itself and monastic tradition 500 years ago whilst the music harks back the setting of hymn that also goes back more than 500 years. I echo the link of old and new with both whisky and music. Richard Blackford writing a modern beautiful emotive setting to the Stabat Mater in 2019 and Lindores Abbey distillery producing its first whisky in 2021, both beautifully marrying history with our present in a very appealing way.

Here I share the 9th and final movement of Pietà which shows all the drama and beauty which is echoed across the much larger work in 9 movements, I very much look forward to hearing this live at the festival in a couple of weeks and meet the composer himself.