February 8, 2017

  • Mesmerizing Choral Music


    Edie Hill: Clay Jug
    The Crossing/Donald Nally
    Navona Records 6073
    Total Time:  47:46
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Edie Hill is a Minnesota-based composer whose work feels sometimes like an extension of Libby Larsen’s lyricism and beauty.  Hill studied with the composer, as well as Lloyd Ultan.  She has worked to encourage young composers while serving as the Composer-In-residence at the Schubert Club.  The present release brings together a variety of works for chorus.

    The opening piece, From the Wingbone of a Swan, is for chorus with mixed chamber ensemble.  The different solo instrument colors weave intricately through the choral texture with an at times almost mesmerizing vibraphone idea adding a magical sense to the gorgeous harmonic writing in the central movement.  An ancient quality appears in the final “Paleolithic Flute” with an intriguing solo line seeming to pull as back in time.  The end result is an often intriguing blend of harmony and pure choral quality that is a sort of American parallel to some of the more familiar English choral music at the end of the 20th Century.

    Each of the smaller works explores different languages exhibiting Hill’s deftness and crafting fascinating sounds out of these texts whether from Anglo-Saxon (The Phoenix), Spanish (Cancion De El Alma), or Latin (Alma Beata Et Bella).  These set in contrast to the English texts of the other works here including a translation of a St. Teresa of Avila text (We Bloomed in Spring) and a translation by Robert Bly that forms the basis of Clay Jug.  The latter is a movement from a larger work.

    The music is beautifully performed here by The Crossing—a Philadelphia-based chamber choir.  Pure tone and clarity of text helps lend itself to Hill’s intricate harmonies and lines.  It is interesting too to hear the shifts that seem to borrow their inspiration from ancient chant or Renaissance choral work within her distinct style.  (A side note that the style reminded me of Franz Beibl.) Certainly one of the label’s finer choral releases in a slate of many fine recordings.  It is helped by the recording in what would seem a perfect venue for this music.