I’ve made a lot of purchases in the last little while. Most of them are choral, but they range from Byrd to Bach to Barber to O’Regan. I still haven’t listened through all of them entirely, but what I have listened to has been quite lovely.
– There Is Sweet Music, Cambridge Singers – My study abroad in England has opened my eyes to a new world of choral music that I never saw was there. I mean, we’ve all sung English choral music before, but singing an occasional piece doesn’t even scratch the surface of British choral music. Having met John Rutter, I learned about all his efforts as a conductor in Cambridge (first with Clare College and then the Cambridge Singers), and how it tied in with the editions of classical choral music he’s been making with OUP. Much of what he’s edited has been recorded by his Cambridge Singers. This recording has been a fantastic view of English music from 1890 to 1950. The singing is top-notch and the interpretations very good. Some highlights include “The blue bird,” by Stanford, “There is sweet music,” by Elgar, and “The three ravens” arr. by Chapman. It’s a fantastic glimpse to the national music of this period. There’s plenty more that didn’t make it to this record.
– Reincarnations, The Dale Warland Singers – I have to admit, I haven’t finished listening to the whole thing, but the title piece of the record, Reincarnations, is simply astounding and worth writing about. It really is some of the best Barber I have ever heard. I find Barber to be much more difficult that many expect him to be. Stunning? Yes, absolutely. I find this recording to be impeccably tuned in addition to being well balanced and blended. The tone of the Dale Warland singers is well fitted to this music. “The Coolin” is particularly beautiful. The intimacy, passion and sensitivity of this music and text is well matched by the singers. I find this music to be sacred; It’s not at all religious in anyway, but it’s very sacred. I find myself singing the opening line to myself quite often. I’m just sad that I never had a love of choral music when The Dale Warland Singers were still performing. It’s a sad thing to hear this wonderful recording of a highly influential choir and never be able to hear them live in person. I guess all good things must come to an end, only to be reincarnated into ensembles of the future.
– Rheinberger: Sacred Choral Music, The Phoenix Bach Choir & Kansas City Choral – This comes from one of the three joint recordings between these two choirs, both run by Charles Bruffy (although the “Phoenix Bach Choir” has since changed it’s name to the “Phoenix Chorale”). First of all, I think the programing was a great choice. Rheinberger is a composer who has been passed over quite a bit (at least in America), but who wrote some truly beautiful and well-crafted works. One thing I also thought was a brilliant choice was to record it in DSD (Direct Stream Digital) in 5.1 surround sound, then print it as Hybrid CD. I think this is very forward thinking by both Bruffy and Chandos Records, which I applaud. We need more recordings done this way. About the performance, it’s very, very good. It’s a surprisingly distinguished sound. It’s a great sound that doesn’t really sound like anyone else right now. If these choirs are looking to make a mark as something different, they’re succeeding. It’s a very clean sound and well tuned. I find the men’s sound (especially the basses) to be a bit swallowed and froggy at times; The sound is just too far back. I think they’d be much more successful if they tipped the sound forward to get a bit more brightness, not to mention a clearer tone. Also, I could have afforded more consonants across the choir, for both German and Latin. Having said that, Bruffy is getting our attention with both of these fantastic ensembles.
– Threshold of Night, Conspirare – This recording is something I found very interesting. It’s the work of a British composer, Tarik O’Regan, after his move to New York (at least some) and performed by a choir from Austin, Texas. It’s a very unusual combination, but has great results. Conspirare is a choir I’m vaguely familiar with, but definitely have my ears perked up to see what else they have to offer. O’Regan has a very specific voice in choral music today. Although he was only born in 1978, he’s already made quite a name for himself on both continents. One of the highlights of this record is “The Ecstasies Above,” for Choir, solo octet and string quartet. The words by Edgar Allan Poe are just begging for a setting such as this. It’s beautifully haunting and ethereal. Having said that, O’Regan can seem really abusive to the sopranos, this is especially evident at the end of Ecstasies as the two solo sopranos are constantly singing up to a high A without much respite in between. It’s not that the figure or range is particularly hard, it’s keeping them up there, exposed, without much of a rest. This kind of writing works for violins but wears on the voice quite a bit and makes it more difficult to keep it in good tune and good tone toward the end. If I was doing this piece, I would have the solo trade off between four different singers at minimum. I’ve seen this across his catalog. I’m just not sure he understands what he’s asking. In my mind, his music is still brilliant and beautiful, but the way he writes for sopranos makes me very hesitant to program it for my choir.
Well, that’s all I’ve listen to so far. More to listen to later.