Renaissance Men/Eric Christopher Perry
Navona Records 6210
Total Time: 73:00
Formed in 2014, the Boston-based choral group Renaissance Men has created an unique opportunity for exploring choral repertoire written for male voices. In their debut album, they have chosen a number of interesting pieces from Thomas Tallis to Daniel Gawthrop. The five works here all focus on exploring religious contemplation and reflection.
The first part of the program features three shorter works. An arrangement of O Vos Omnes composed by the cellist Pablo Casals and originally for SATB chorus. The arrangement here by Clifford G. Richter gives us a darker, and perhaps mellower, exploration of the work which has an ancient feel. Massachussets composer Patricia Van Ness is known for the way she explores motivic development and long lines. This is on display in her setting of Psalm 3 which has moments of open modal harmony that move to rather beautiful expanded sonorities. It provides a great contrast to the rich writing of Milhaud’s Psalm 121 setting (1922). The work is a truly magnificent exploration of his bitonal harmony with bits of modal melodies intended to evoke Jewish music. Truly one of the great examples of 20th-Century choral writing. A further connection here is that the piece was originally written and premiered by The Harvard Glee Club. It is a gorgeous performance.
The second half of the album explores Biblical prophets. An arrangement of Tallis’ The Lamentations of Jeremiah for men is the first of two works focusing on these ancient texts. The 16th Century work uses the opening five verses of Lamentations. Blends of solo and full choral expression in this version helps add an extra layer of contrast bolstered by Tallis’ own exploration of polyphony and larger homophonic sections. The interpretation here thus creates a unique addition to the performances available.
The closing work is by the masterful American choral composer Daniel Gawthrop. His The Promises of Isaiah the Prophet was written for and premiered by RenMen in 2016. The work serves as a modern extension of the Tallis but now moving us toward a more uplifting and hopeful vision. The quality of the work explores a similar style as well with flirtations of spiritual-like qualities. It is an excellent example of accessible modern choral writing for which the composer is well known.
Navona’s recording captures the choir quite well in the Westminster Presbyterian Church location in Buffalo. The sound is quite pure without being overambient and this lends itself well to the warm vocal quality of the group itself. This is an excellent memento that the group can have for those attending their many concerts here in New England and an opportunity for those outside the region to experience their programs and sound which are the East Coast answer to Chanticleer.