I’ve had a great time discovering new music and new recordings lately. Some from my trip to London, but mostly from Amazon.com. Here are some more records I’ve had a chance to listen to.
– Harvest Home, Dale Warland Singers – One of the final recordings by the group, which features a great deal of music written specifically for this ensemble. Besides arrangements by Dale Warland himself are pieces arranged by Stephen Paulus, Carol Barnett and Kevin Siegfried. I actually had a really hard time getting a copy of this recording. It’s out of print from Gothic Records and it’s suffered from serious price gouging from independent sellers on Amazon (so has BYU Singers’ recording of Whitacre). The cheapest copy was maybe $60. Thankfully, a reasonable seller showed up and I was lucky to snag it up. That should say just a little something about how popular this album has been. It lives up to it’s reputation, this is a world class choir singing some well done arrangements of traditional American songs. A few highlights are “We Gather Together,” and “The Road Home” by Paulus, as well as “McKay” by Barnett. The latter piece, I feel, is a brilliantly done, rhapsodic sort of setting that matches the text so beautifully. Another highlight is “Lay Me Low,” from Shaker Songs by Siegfried. It’s really easy to over do this fragile, tender setting, but the Dale Warland singers make it so moving. The only drawback of this album is that there are a few arrangements that are a bit too bland in my opinion. They all have their merits, but some of them could have used a little more salt and pepper.
– Mass in B minor, Collegium Vocale, Ghent – This is a recording I was very excited about getting my hands on. A friend shared with me the “Sanctus” from this recording, and my ears immediately perked up. It sounded like a fresh new approach to this exquisite work by Bach. I have to say, this was the biggest let down of all the new recordings. It’s actually not a very good recording at all. It wasn’t that the interpretation was bad, or that the tempi were wrong, or even that the editing was sloppy (Monteverdi Choir, St. Matthew Passion anyone?), the choir just wasn’t up to snuff for this kind of literature. Throughout the recording there were balance issues and intonation problems. I was surprised by what seemed to make it into the final recording. I kept asking myself “surely they would have noticed that and chopped it out?” Maybe worse, that was the best take they had. I just couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sopranos the entire time, as if half of the other sections were sick in bed or something. Also very shocking was how sloppy consonants were throughout this entire recording, especially ending consonants. Now the recording did have it’s good moments, one of which being the “Sanctus,” but they were few and far between, and made listen to this wonderful work a drag and a chore. Bach should never be either. Avoid this recording.
– Intimations of Immortatliy, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus – I’m a fan of Gerald Finzi’s choral music for sure. It’s hard to forget any of his Seven Poems of Robert Bridges. They’re all immensely fulfilling to sing and listen to. Other marvelous works of his include his Magnificat and Hymn to Saint Cecelia. When I saw this recording of Intimations of Immortality, I was taken back because I’d never heard of the work before. Now there were a few red flags when I saw this, first a choir, orchestra and tenor I’ve never heard of. Risky. Another red flag of course was the Naxos label. Let’s just say that Naxos has a knack for picking up all the crap recordings and selling them at dangerously low prices to lure in people like me who love classical music and saving money. But at the bottom I noticed David Hill’s name. I met him in London conducting the London Bach choir as well as the BBC Singers. He knows what he’s doing and that gave me a little reassurance. I picked it up and haven’t looked back. This is a surprisingly great recording. First, the work is tremendous, definitely one of Finzi’s greatest (we should perform it more often), and the performance ain’t half bad either. The Bournemouth Choir actually gave some other symphonic choirs I know a run for their money.
– Not No Faceless Angel, Polyphony – I love the music of Gabriel Jackson. It seems to have this beautiful swirling and shimmering quality to a lot of it. It’s charming and hypnotizing at the same time. I am, however, a little afraid of Polyphony. I have a few tracks from their Cloudburst recording of music by Eric Whitacre and was really put off from the group. To me, it just seemed that that music was butchered by square interpretations and way to much woblato (wobble + vibrato) in the bass section (“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” is a great example of both). This recording is quite the opposite of that. The sound of the choir is drastically better, and much better balanced. It holds a real sensitivity to Jackson’s music. There are a few moments, here and there, of square woblato, but overall it’s stunning. A few highlights for me are “I Gaze Upon You,” “O Sacrum Convivium,” and the title track, “Not No Faceless Angel.” The title track is especially ravishing with it’s cello and flute parts and has a truly ecstatic climax. This is music to remember and cherish. They say that music reflects the composer, well in this case, to me, Gabriel Jackson is a true optimist: Bright and cheerful, and yet displays a great deal of sensitivity and introspection. I highly recommend this recording.