- The Seafarer for narrator, harp, psaltery & chorus (from 'The Afterlife of Li Jiantong')
- Lullabies (5) for chorus
- Sacred Kingfisher Psalms, for chorus
The subtitle of "A Bridge of Dreams," a 2011 album with Ars Nova Copenhagen and Paul Hillier, is "a cappella Music from the Pacific Rim," and it includes the works of composers from Australia, New Zealand, California, and China, all of which draws in part, if not entirely, on non-Western musical traditions. Lou Harrison left the accompaniment for his "Mass for Saint Cecilia's Day" open-ended and here Andrew Lawrence-King provides a discreet undergirding using medieval harp, psaltery, and hurdy-gurdy. It bears a strong resemblance to Medieval plainchant mass in its predominantly monophonic, melismatic writing, and its modal character. The modes, though, are Harrison's own, based on traditional Indonesian and Chinese scales. The mass is a beautifully expressive, immediately engaging piece that reveals a fresh facet of the composer's brilliantly expansive imagination. In "The Seafarer," Lawrence-King plays psaltery and harp in his arrangement of music from Chinese composer Liu Sola's 2009 chamber opera, "The Afterlife of Li Jiantong," over which Paul Hillier provides a magisterial narration of Kevin Crossley-Holland's translation of an Anglo-Saxon ballad. Australian composer Anne Boyd's "As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams" is an immensely impressive work for wordless chorus. Boyd creates a mesmerizing dreamscape that's essentially static harmonically but that's continually shifting densities and textures and is never less than sonically gorgeous. Ars Nova Copenhagen sings with chaste but warm tone, smooth blend, tonal precision, and alert musicality under the leadership of Paul Hillier. The sound of Da Capo's hybrid SACD is spacious and warmly ambient. This is an album that should be of strong interest to fans of new choral music from off the beaten path.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Paul Hillier has been a superb choral director and master of the lesser known for decades now. He became known first for producing vocal ensembles that specialized in early Baroque and Medieval repertoire but for the twenty years he has championed contemporary vocal music of the highest order. This new disc with the Ars Nova Copenhagen is very unusual and very compelling. The title of the collection is also the title of the closing work, by Australian Anne Boyd and, in turn, taken from a traditional Japanese book by the mysteriously unknown Lady Sarashina. There is a sort of beauty and mystery to each of these works and the collection is certainly not like any other a capella choral work you have likely heard. The opening piece, "Mass for St. Cecilia's Day" by Lou Harrison. Easily the "name" composer in this collection, Harrison sets the traditional Latin mass, much as it would be heard for the feast of St. Cecilia or any other early Catholic liturgy but in his own, somewhat 'eastern' trademark style. You have to listen carefully the semitone resolutions and Tibetan inspired harmonies that characterize Harrison in between the plainchant. Joined in part by harpist/psalterist Andrew Lawrence-King, this is a very pleasant work. The three works that come from composers bearing a connection to Australia and New Zealand. Closing with the title work by Anne Boyd, "As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams" is a beautiful, soft work inspired by the medieval Japanese text from Lady Sarashina. Boyd's harmonies and voicings are other worldly and the work slides from harmony to harmony in a most effective manner. Jack Body's "Five Lullabies" is a set of wordless vocalises that have their phonetic roots in a variety of cultures including Japanese, Chinese and Latin. The polyphony is challenging for the singers and a pleasure to listen to. I found Ross Edwards "Sacred Kingfisher Psalms" the most unusual but most captivating (to me) work represented here. Edwards sets the texts of Psalms #1 and 130 in a manner inspired by Australian Aboriginal imagery including the indigenous names of stars, rivers and birds. Psalm 130 even has sections within text requiring singers to intone the names of native birds but singing fully notated patterns that mimic the cries and calls of the birds. This a strangely hypnotic work that truly sounds as if Latin sacred texts were superimposed on an Aboriginal ceremony of sorts. I really enjoyed the Boyd, Body and Edwards the most. The Liu Sola and Kevin Crossley-Holland arrangement of the medieval Anglo-Saxon text, "The Seafarer" for reader/narrator and psaltery is taken from an earlier vocal only version the same text by Chinese composer Liu. I understand the inclusion of this into the collection but it did not do much for me compare to the vocal works, the three described above, in particular. There is much to be admired in this collection. The program is intensely creative and unusual, thanks in large part to the artistic vision of Paul Hillier, and the Ars Nova Copenhagen are amazing singers who bring energy and beauty to these works.