Notes and Editorial Reviews
"To what extent Donald Nally’s life philosophy has materially shaped his music-making and musical choices cannot be known, but there is no denying the skill of the choir with which he has recorded here, and the quality of the music he chooses to perform. The Crossing, a professional choir based in Philadelphia, is as fine a chamber chorus as will be found anywhere. The tone is fairly bright in the style of many English choirs, with a tightly controlled, even nonexistent, vibrato; the result is a purity of sound and transparency of texture that often has the cool beauty of cut crystal. At other times, and especially in the warmer acoustic of the church used for the Christmas CD, the sound takes on an incandescent glow. The singing is
almost entirely a cappella. The precision of intonation, rhythm, balance, and diction is unerring, even in—no, especially in—works that would simply be beyond any but the most gifted groups of singers. Nally, a choral trainer of substantial reputation, acknowledges his good fortune during the interview in a statement both disarmingly modest and plainly honest. He has, in The Crossing, a collection of singing talent that would be the delight of any choral conductor. These are exceptional musicians who have joined together in a remarkable joint venture. Their good fortune is that Nally clearly knows what to do with the resources at his disposal.
All of the music recorded here—and in fact the choir’s entire repertoire—is contemporary. Much of it is quite beautiful by any standard, and there is hardly a measure of it that is not compelling, or mesmerizing, or thought-provoking, or challenging in the best sense of that word. Nally describes it as postmodern, a term sometimes associated with an aesthetic of cheeky reactionism, but one feels little of the ironic or parodic in what these composers offer. In fact, Nally comments on modern music’s rejection of overt emotion in his interview, and argues that many composers of postmodern music are again concerned with reaching the listener directly. That is borne out here. True, the idioms are often daring as much as impassioned, but it would be a sad oversight for lovers of fine singing, interested in the future of choral music, to miss exploring these remarkable compositional voices. Nally has had great success in building loyal audiences for this music in Philadelphia, based in large part on their trust in the integrity of what he is doing. These performances are eloquent advocates for these works.
The Navona disc,
It is Time [consists] mostly of unaccompanied works from the Celan Project, a program conceived by Nally for The Crossing on the elusive Impressionist verse of Paul Celan. The poetry of Celan, a German-speaking Romanian Jew who survived the Holocaust and eventually settled in Paris after the war, is ideal for such treatment, as its purposeful, often dreamlike vagueness, even about matters of intense reality, is a perfect complement to the necessary inexactitude of musical setting. Three of the works were commissioned from David Shapiro, Kile Smith, and Kirsten Broberg for a series of concerts in 2009. Shapiro’s It is Time—a setting of Celan’s Corona—and his companion setting of The Years from You to Me, written in 2010 for this recording, reinforce both the love-song imagery of the verse and its darkness. Smith’s Where flames a word is a setting of two poems and a prose piece, which in his hands find an uncertain transcendence in the struggle toward different kinds of reconciliation and concord. And, intensely concentrated, emotionally and musically, Broberg’s Breathturn, which concludes the disc, joins five of Celan’s short poems into a little over five minutes of remarkable musical inventiveness.
Two other Celan settings are included. Frank Havrøy’s Psalm draws on a poem of faith shattered by life experience, while in Variationen mit Celan-Gedichten III, German composer Erhard Karkoschka combines spoken word, wordless vocalization, and Sprechgesang with a quote of a Bach chorale sung haltingly as if the words offer both comfort and pain. Birth and death—here of Celan’s infant son’s—are the subject, as they are in a very different way in Paul Fowler’s Breath, the one non-Celan-based work. Coming from the next year’s Levine Project, the setting of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine contrasts fears of mortality with the immortality of rock and mountain, and creates a view from the summit that is not romantic, but no less exultant: most impressive."
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Works on This Recording
It is Time, for chorus by David Shapiro
Length: 6 Minutes 32 Secs.
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