Robert Geary: TURN THE PAGE on INNOVA Print E-mail
Classical Reviews - Choral
Written by Robert Carl   
Monday, 13 December 2010

TURN THE PAGE Robert Geary, dir; Volti INNOVA 759 (72:03)

KERNIS Ecstatic Meditations. ROHDE Endless. FRANK Ccollanan Maria. CALTABIANO Metaphor. MOE O the Flesh Is Hot but the Heart Is Cold. WINGES Open the Book of What Happened. GARROP Sonnets of Beauty and Music. HAWLEY 2 Motets

This is an exceptional collection of new American choral music, all by living composers. Volti under Robert Geary performs impeccably, and all the pieces are well crafted, stimulating, aspiring to different types of beauty. What makes this disc a cut above is its attitude toward choral repertoire and programming.

I’ve flailed this horse a few times before, but I’ll briefly reiterate. American choral music on the whole seems to have been highly influenced by an Anglo-Protestant sacred tradition, which is basically hymn-based. There’s an emphasis on beautiful pantonal harmonies above all. It sounds great, and it has its great practicioners (cf. Lauridsen and Whitacre). But that’s hardly all that the choral ensemble is capable of. The great tradition of chamber singing , embodied in the madrigal, goes in a far different direction: largely contrapuntal and far more interested in dramatic effect. And it seems that all too many choruses and their directors are wary of this approach, which can lead to unusual demands on musicianship and possibly frighten audiences looking for a certain sort of “lovely listening.”

So Volti’s approach is bracing. There are certainly pieces that have that highly tonal lyricism, above all William Hawley’s Two Motets , with their hints of fauxbourdon and Elizabethan harmony. Stacey Garrop’s settings of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Ronald Caltabiano’s of Blake, Donne, and Whitman feel closely allied to the madrigal tradition. Gabriela Lena Frank’s piece has the most overtly and exuberantly ethnic character, based on Peruvian religious festivals. Mark Winges and Kurt Rohde have the most “chewy” works, but they are hardly offputting. I particularly like the latter, whose settings of Jakob Stein have a satisfying economy and bite.

For me two works stand out most distinctly. Aaron Kernis’s four Meditations are genuinely ecstatic, as their title implies. Setting poems by the Medieval mystic nun Mechthild of Magdeburg, they feel like a small choral symphony. They also explore how vocal writing can have a spirit of dance (most literally in the third movement). And Eric Moe’s O the Flesh Is Hot but the Heart Is Cold is a truly original work. Its title comes from its text, a surrealistic prose poem by Matthea Harvey, “Baked Alaska, a Theory of.” Seeded throughout its flow is a series of catchy pseudo-folk/pop tunes that stick in memory. It has an uncanny combination of the banal and horrific.

Once again, a great demonstration of effective, satisfying choral music that doesn’t insult your intelligence. Bravo. Robert Carl

Last Updated ( Monday, 13 December 2010 )
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