Reviews were written by Jeff O'Donnell, Sing For Joy producer and music director.
The Dale Warland Singers / Dale Warland, conductor
Gothic Records / G 49243
After 30 years of some of the best music making imaginable, the remarkable Dale Warland and his singers give us one final gift with this incredible CD. I hear a lot of recordings in the course of choosing music for Sing For Joy, and I believe this is one of the most outstanding choral CDs I have ever heard. It is the perfect combination of excellent repertoire, musical and emotional performances, and second-to-none engineering and production. The singers’ passion for the music grabs the listener and carries him through the themes of harvest, home and classic Americana. While each track is a gem, special mention must be made of the delightful “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” the soulful “Deep River,” the simply emotional “The Road Home” and the familiar “The Water is Wide,” in an elegant arrangement by longtime Warland collaborator and standout guitarist Jeffrey Van. Dale Warland and his group have gone out on top, and this CD will serve as testament to what was probably the finest American choir of its time. I can’t think of a better way to remember them.
Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna
Polyphony; Britten Sinfonia / Stephen Layton
Hyperion / CDA67449
To locate the recording online, we recommend doing a search for the artist, Polyphony, under "Indexes."
The music of Morten Lauridsen is an interesting topic to discuss with choir directors. Try it some time! I suppose one word to describe it would be “comfortable.” Filled with rich harmonies, soaring melodic lines, and lush instrumentation, the music is like a tasty confection. I will admit when I saw an all Lauridsen disc cross my desk, I was a bit hesitant to try it out in one sitting. Would it be too much of the “same?” On the whole, the answer would be “no.” The performances on this disc are very good, with the right balance of ambience, clarity and emphasis creating the interest. Lauridsen’s most famous works, Lux Aeterna and “O magnum mysterium,” receive fine readings, but it is the lesser known works that I enjoyed encountering the most. Especially “Ubi caritas et amor.” A little goes a long way on this disc, which is an interesting parallel to the music of Lauridsen itself.
The Widor Mass, Op. 36:
The Grand 19th-Century St. Sulpice Tradition
Daniel Roth (Grand Orgue); Chœr Darius Milhaud; Ensemble Dodecamen / Camile Haedt-Goussu and Christopher Hyde
JAV Recordings / JAV15
This CD is an interesting experiment. Its goal: to recreate a mass in the French style as it may have been experienced in the 19 th Century. Recorded in the majestic church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris France, this CD presents the Mass, Op. 36 by Charles-Marie Widor (of the Toccata fame) for choir and organ as the centerpiece of the experience. Setting the mood with an extended recording of the deep throbbing of the Church’s bells, this disc attempts to give the listener the “you are there” feel. I recently visited Saint-Sulpice, and had the honor of playing the church’s historic (and very large) Cavaillé-Coll organ, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well this recording captured the essence of that most famous of French organs. The dialogue between the massive Grand Orgue and more diminutive Orgue de Chœur as well as the spirited singing of the choirs is quite arresting. It must be noted, though that the sound of the choir is a bit raw and suffers from some unfortunate tuning problems, but that goes along with the veritæ goal of the recording. The brilliant organ improvisations by Daniel Roth are the real treats on this disc.
Lux Aeterna: Requiem & Messe cum Jubilo
The Gents / Peter Dijkstra
Channel Classics / CCS SA 22405
To locate the recording online, we recommend doing a search under Artist for "The Gents."
Although there are two discs with Lux Aeterna in the title this month, they are very different from each other. French composer Maurice Duruflé did not compose much music, but that which he did is universally loved for its beauty, grace and skillful arrangement. His most famous work, the Requiem, Op. 9, is performed by the relatively new male voice ensemble, “The Gents,” and a few female friends. The version heard here is for organ and cello, and is performed well. The choral sound is clear and present, with a nice but not overly muddy bloom provided by the room. The organ tone is warm and inviting. Also heard on this disc is the lesser-known but equally well-crafted Messe cum Jubilo for men’s voices. Works by other French composers Poulenc and Messiaen round out this excellent release. I look forward to hearing more from this group. An added bonus is the SACD 5.0 surround sound, which will give your audio system nice workout!
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge;
City of Birmingham Symphony / Stephen Cleobury
EMI / 579522
More popular choral music here, this time by John Rutter and performed expertly by the always reliable choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Stephen Cleobury presents the music well, and the excellent engineering team from EMI capture it beautifully. In addition to the Gloria, we hear Rutter’s Magnificat and “Psalm 150.” Rutter himself has said he would have felt at home writing music for the big “showy” musicals of the 40s and 50s, and we hear this affinity in these works. The music seems to speak with a smile and a wink, and the effect can be delightful. This is an excellent recording of repertoire that has become quite well-liked by audiences and choirs, and I think you will enjoy it, too.