Last March, when BYU Singers was in Chicago for ACDA, I had the opportunity to walk around the exhibits in the basement of the Hilton. After picking up a bunch of free sheet music and meeting some of the folks at Walton and Hal Leonard, I came across the exhibit for a Canadian ensemble named musica initma. A few of us here at BYU had discovered their video of “Christus vincit” by James MacMillan and we were very impressed by what we heard.
Basically, the group consist of 12 voices without a conductor. This sort of thing is very, very difficult to manage. Keeping that many people together without a conductor is a serious challenge. I mean, even keeping two or three people together without dragging is a serious challenge. Put expression into that mix and you’ve got a whole new bag of problems. With this opportunity to meet with some of them I had questions about how they ran their ensemble. Simple things like, who picks their repertoire? Who decides on interpretation choices? How do they stay together? How often do they rehearse? How important in sight-reading? One of the members went above and beyond gracious in answering all my questions (I wish I could remember her name).
After a while they gave me a free copy of their newest CD Into Light charging me, “listen to it . . . tell all your friends about it.” Such great people. Well, I listened to it, but completely forgot to talk about it! I decided that in order to make up for that, I’ll write a review here, hoping that will make up for it.
The idea behind this album was to make a recording of all-Canadian choral music. The group is from Canada and there hasn’t really been a collection like this before, makes perfect sense. Naturally, the most arguably famous Canadian composer, Healey Willan, is missing from the line up. Rather than make a typical, whitebread, cookie-cutter album of the most famous Canadian choral pieces, musica initma has made a bold choice to offer music that we’ve probably never heard before. Willan’s music has been recorded dozens of times by great choirs, why record them again only to subject yourself to unfair comparisons? Why not offer something fresh and new for you listeners and get them to stretch a little? musica initma has done just that in a brilliant way. It’s a lot like what Stephen Layton did with his recording of American music with Trinity College. If Canada ever had to prove that it could produce world-class choral music (both in writing and performance), this album is a solid “exhibit A.”
The album does open with a piece by Canada’s second most famous composer, Imant Raminsh. His “Ave verum corpus,” has become quite popular here in the States and around the world. It sets up the album quite beautiful; It sets the tone for the rest of what is to follow. We have heard it before but it allows us something familiar to hold onto before we venture into new territory. I was also glad to see R. Murray Schaffer on the recording (Canada’s third most famous composer) but with some pieces we’re not really familiar with.
I was never really worried about what I was being offered. I mean, this is the choir that introduced me to “You Have Ravished My Heart” by Stephen Chapman. It’s like that friend you have with great taste that takes you to a new restaurant: you feel comfortable ordering just about anything on the menu because they brought you there. Some highlights from the disc for me include “Agneau de Dieu (Lamb of God)” by Rupert Lang, “Exaudi” by Jocelyn Morlock, “Ice” by Bruce Sled, and “Le Pont Mirabeau (The Mirabeau Bridge)” by Lionel Daunais. “Le Pont” in particular is exceptionally beautiful and makes a great album closer.
Is this album perfect? No. What album is? This album is, however, a solid offering from a great ensemble and also serves as a great representation for all of Canadian choral music. This group has recorded a number of other disc that I’m looking forward to listening to in the future. This is the kind of group that I would love to write music for (especially if I had the time).
Here’s a video of the gorgeous “Agneau de Dieu” by Rupert Lang. While it’s not the recording from the album, it shows you what a live performance is like with them.