Robert Kyr: In Praise of Music
Antioch Chamber Ensemble/Joshua Copeland
Bridge Records 9558
Total Time: 58:28
Those who love transcendent choral music that features gorgeous harmonic writing that unfolds slowly over time will find much to enjoy in this new Bridge Release. The Antioch Chamber Ensemble’s new album is a collection of ten choral works by Oregon-based composer Robert Kyr. The music here was written between 2003 and 2018 and features texts both sacred and secular.
Kyr’s music is in that same league and stylistic expression as the works of Morten Lauridsen. The harmonies are all quite tonal with often intriguing harmonic shifts that captivate the ear with their unexpected arrivals and redirections. Each work offers another transformative journey informed by the texts that direct the listener’s own contemplation. The build toward these moments is also carefully sequenced on the album itself. In Praise of Music (2006) opens the album with an inviting musical sound that is warmed by the chorus here gorgeously. By the third work, In the Name of Music (2017), we hear some familiar ideas that appeared in the first two works with even more advanced dissonances and an overall expansion of vocal ranges to create a more intense work. Kyr also explores ancient musical styles both in terms of Gregorian chant and Renaissance/Early Baroque styles in his setting of the Veni Creator Spiritus (2005) and in a specially-commissioned vespers service written for the Palace of Governor’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The latter also references Monteverdi with the use of texts from that composers 1610 Vespers with that same blend of styles heard earlier. For variety, there is a wordless chorus, Dawnsong (2018) which creates its own stunning beauty. The album continues with adapted settings of poetry by John Donne (Ode to Music, 2013), St. Francis of Assisi (Voices for Peace, 2002), and a final Alleluia for Peace (2003). There is also a fascinating spiritual, Freedom Song (2011) which focuses on issues of racial and social justice and references call and response-like African singing. It is the more unique style with a strong rhythmic pulse and growing excitement that makes this a surprising highlight.
The Antioch singers perform these works so beautifully one may overlook some of the difficult writing that they are faced with at times. The vocal lines are delineated well and enunciation is overall quite good which presents a solid, unified sound. Though in much of this music, it is the sound of the words that holds as much, if not more power, than the word itself. Joshua Copeland helps shape these lines well. It additionally helps that the group is captured in a warm acoustic that is not over ambient. The music’s ancient echoes in contemporary language will serves as an inviting experience for fans of contemporary choral music.