- Psalms (4) for chorus, 2 pianos & orchestra - Lukas Foss - Dwight Bigler - James Morrow - University of Texas Chamber Singers - John Wiles - Lisa Roane Holt - Alena Gorina
- The Hour Glass, for 4 voices - Irving Fine - Ben Jonson - James Morrow - University of Texas Chamber Singers - John Wiles - Lisa Roane Holt - Ben Johnson - Carla Flores - Eric Neuville - Meredith Ruduski - Sarah Bannon
- The Mask, for chorus, piano & chamber ensemble - William Bolcom - Dwight Bigler - Gwendolyn Bennett - James Morrow - University of Texas Chamber Singers - Richard Bruce - Paul Laurence Dunbar - Charles Cyrus Thomas - Thomas Jefferson Anderson
- Carols of Death, pieces (3) for chorus - William Schuman - Walt Whitman - James Morrow - University of Texas Chamber Singers
- Mass, for mixed chorus, Op 84 - Vincent Persichetti - James Morrow - University of Texas Chamber Singers - John Wiles
American Choral Musicby James Morrow
The program of this Naxos release offers something less than the broad spectrum of American choral music the title might suggest. With the exception of William Bolcom's "The Mask" (1990), all the music on the album was composed between 1949 and 1960, and it's striking, although each composer had his own individual style, how many ideas were shared. The album's narrow focus emerges in the end as a virtue, however. The program sticks together, and it includes at least one lost gem, Irving Fine's "The Hour-Glass" (1949), to texts by the English poet Ben Jonson. These six short a cappella settings are masterful in their handling of choral register, with solo voices weaving in and out of the choir in a tapestry of complex shadings, all the while keeping closely to the contours of Jonson's poetry and maintaining the intelligibility of the texts. The only thing that might not recommend this small work to college and university choirs is its considerable difficulty, but this poses no problem for the choristers of the University of Texas Chamber singers under James Morrow. Throughout, they deliver performances on a par with many professional choirs. The common features in the religious works by Persichetti and Foss that begin and end the program lie mostly in the realm of tonal language, with quasi-medieval techniques such as open intervals and temporary tonal centers established by means of unisons. These require great accuracy of intonation not to sound annoying, and the singing here is never less than a pleasure. Bolcom's set of songs for chorus, soloists, and piano diverges from the rest of the program in its use of vernacular elements, missing from the music of the mid-century. The singers again display maturity beyond what is expected in their handling of the devastating emotional collapse in "Heritage" (track 10), one of Bolcom's subtlest uses of the ragtime idiom. Strongly recommended for fans of American choral music of any type, despite Naxos' penny-wise, pound-foolish ways; the package is stuffed with an entire second booklet of advertising, but the listener is forced to the Internet to get the sung texts.
- Release Date:
- Naxos American
Performance CreditsJames Morrow Primary Artist
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There's sacred music and secular in this second such collection by Morrow and his Texas forces; some is accompanied, and some not. The only unifying theme here is that all the composers were/are American. Persichetti's 1960 Mass oscillates between stark threads of chant-like melody and rich harmonies. Schuman: Carols of Death (1958/ Walt Whitman) and Fine: The Hour-Glass (1949/ Ben Jonson) set classic poetry to astringent new music. In the six sections of The Mask (1990, one for keyboard alone) William Bolcom exploits a variety of pretty accessible musical styles. A three-part Psalms (1956) by Lukas Foss shows a definite influence on Bernstein's more famous setting; just the middle section is over-long for its content. Performances and sound are fine, though diction could be better, and you will need to download the texts to get a lot of the words.
This is a challenging recording of modern choral works. If you just want a CD of "pretty" choral music, look elsewhere, but if you are interested in new music and want to hear it done well, have a listen! The University of Texas Chamber Singers have a well-blended, Renaissance-esque sound. The sopranos can get a little pushed and strident on the loud straight tone sections, but otherwise have a quite lovely sound. The altos have a particularly rich and unified sound in this ensemble and were my particular favorite section of the choir to pay attention to. Director James Morrow has done a great job of choosing his choral members, and the soloists don't disappoint either. This recording has some very creative and interesting compositions, and my favorite pieces were the Persichetti Mass movements. There are some exquisite moments in this mass, and this choir executes well! This wouldn't be a CD I'd listen to all the time because it is such modern and challenging music. However, it is a great recording of a very fine choir, and these composers deserve to be heard.