July 17, 2019

  • Making the Ancient Modern: Evolutionary Spirits


    Evolutionary Spirits
    The Crossing/Donald Nally
    Navona Records 6218
    Total Time:  56:58
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    A couple of years ago, the Philadelphia-based chorus, The Crossing, released a survey of music by Edie Hill that was among the finest choral releases in Navona’s catalogue.  The ensemble has commissioned over seventy works that help expand and rethink choral music and this new release brings together ten selections, including two by Edie Hill, featuring the work of six composers.

    The album opens with Hill’s Poem for 2084 which features gorgeous lines with ancient modes and settings reminiscent of the late Middle Ages.  The harmonies move from these more ethereal open sounds to closer dissonant clusters.  A similar approach occurs in the penultimate track, “Marvelous Error!”.

    Three works by Gregory W. Brown appear on the program.  First is Entrai, pastores, entrai which continues this thread of ancient-modern sensibilities with rich harmonic moments.  This, coupled with James Shrader’s beautiful Angels Sang With Mirth and Glee bring us works attuned to the church seasons of Advent/Christmas.  Blends of close intervals create a stunning backdrop to the clear text settings for this modern carol.  Bruce Babcock’s Be Still (2012) allows for further contemplative music with a focus on just eight words from Psalm 46.  Brown’s Vidi Aquam then moves us into a reflection on creation that blends a bit of retelling of Genesis with a reflection upon this in this more extended three-movement work.  The more faith-based section of the program concludes with a stunning setting of a 16th-Century liturgical poem in Hebrew by composer Jonathan Sheffer.

    The final four works on the program are more secular in nature.  Two works by Christopher J. Hoh help us change gears beginning with his touching homage to composer Elliott Carter, To Elliot.  The final bars are quite gorgeous with a somewhat unresolved hopefulness.  Then we turn to Shakespeare for My Mistress’ Eyes (2014), a setting of his Sonnet 130.  At first one might get the impression this is a more sacred piece with its ancient sounding, open style and closer intervals which then moves to explore more interactive dialogue and imitation between the voices.  Always, harmonies return to these denser constructions finding beauty in the close writing.  This continues with the final Brown work which closes the album, Five Women Bathing in Moonlight.

    The Crossing performs these works in stunning sound.  Textures are rather wonderful to hear evolve in these pieces and the tone is very pure which helps the harmonic writing stand out well.  Many of these choral works land in the realm of Lauridsen’s style for blending ancient and modern sounds in these often contemplative works that are a new musical spirituality.  For any fans of this style of choral music, Evolutionary Spirits will be a welcome addition to their listening.