Phil Kline: John the Revelator

Phil Kline: John the Revelator

by Phil Kline


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Phil Kline: John the Revelator

Phil Kline takes the title of his mass, "John the Revelator," from the 1930 call and response gospel song by Blind Willie Johnson. The reference to the Revelation of St. John is a clue that this will be a dark, apocalyptic work, reinforced by the dismally grim woodcuts by Gustave Doré on the album's cover and throughout the booklet. For all its genuinely foreboding thematic and textual references, though, the mass is ultimately an affirmation offering the hope of redemption. The mass is beautifully structured. It opens and closes with two inventively harmonized classic American hymn tunes from the Sacred Harp collection, "Northpoint" and "Wondrous Love." Kline sets the texts of the Mass Ordinary (the sections that remain the same at every mass) for six a cappella voices, and for the Propers (the sections that change from week to week), the voices are accompanied by string quartet and sometimes organ. The texts for the Propers are not the conventional liturgical ones, but come from the writings of Samuel Beckett, David Shapiro, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Kline brings an exceptionally supple imagination to the texts, and each of its 16 movements is unabashedly expressive and inventively crafted. The Credo is essentially a very long list of beliefs, and because of its length and structure, usually the most challenging section to set. Kline's unconventional handling of it is an example of his ingenuity and inspiration. Rather than resorting to the most obvious option of creating musical interest through variety and contrast, he underlies the entire movement with a drone, a pitch that remains unchanging but is part of slowly shifting harmonies, and a steady rhythmic pulsing. The drone and pulse create musical tension simply by their inexorability, and by very gradually increasing the density of the harmonies of the vocal parts, Kline builds to a climax of astonishing intensity. Kline's harmonic language is eclectic, ranging from the extended use of unison singing to chords of daunting complexity. What is consistent throughout is the emotional directness and expressiveness of his writing. While it's difficult to imagine the piece being used liturgically, Kline's is easily one of the most moving and engaging mass settings in recent memory. The groups for whom it was written perform it with intense commitment and breathtaking assurance. The male vocal sextet Lionheart specializes in early music, but handles the harmonic and rhythmic challenges of the piece with apparent ease, always singing with exceptionally clear and sweet tone, and the string quartet Ethel plays with passion and understanding. The album is beautifully engineered, with terrific presence and warmth. Strongly recommended for fans of new music.

Product Details

Release Date: 05/12/2009
Label: Cantaloupe
UPC: 0713746304720
catalogNumber: 21047

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