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American Angels / Anonymous 4


Release Date: 02/10/2004 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 907326   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  E.J. KingJames ChristopherWilliam BradburyR.F.M. Mann,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


Everyone who has been following the career of Anonymous 4 has long known that the real "American Angels" are the four women (five, counting original-now-retired member Ruth Cunningham) who have made this group and its repertoire of medieval chant and polyphony a mainstay in the catalog and a standard against which all others will be measured. These singers, whose purity of tone, respect for historical context and sensitivity to language and style, and overall ability to capture the musical essence of whatever they perform (and always seem to have fun doing it!), have shown that ancient texts and modes and melodies, sacred or secular, can speak to us now--that even these forms and their
Read more often obsolete functions retain a vitality and humanness that modern ears and spirits can appreciate amid the sludge and drivel that passes for much of today's so-called music. And although the program on this new release is several centuries removed from the group's usual territory, it still comfortably retains the character of "early music", presenting 20 varied and profoundly engaging examples of early American folk hymns, gospel, and camp revival songs.

The music is a natural fit for these voices, relying as it does on clear, distinct lines and precise intonation to allow the open harmonies to fully resonate, and if you've heard other groups perform similar repertoire--Wondrous Love, Resignation, Sweet By and By, Shall we gather at the river, Parting Hand, Amazing Grace, etc.--you've never heard it so sweet, pure-voiced, vibrant, and sincere as here. All you have to do is skip to track 4--Sweet hour of prayer--and you'll be warmed and uplifted by the, yes, angelic harmonies and heartfelt expression. Thankfully, there's no imposition of artificial "authentic dialect" nor is there an inordinate amount of ornamentation--for the most part the tunes are delivered in the manner they were intended: simply and respectfully. There are two versions of Amazing Grace, the second of which contains the essence of the familiar tune, but it's buried in the middle of the voicing (typical of this style) so it sounds almost like a new piece. The singers begin several of the selections in the original manner, using fa-sol-la syllables, then continue with the words. As Anonymous 4 approaches the end of its illustrious recording career we can only offer one more round of applause for yet another entertaining, enlightening musical journey from our own American Angels.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

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In a striking change of pace for their swan song on the other disc, the ladies of Anonymous 4 have moved away from the Middle Ages for the first time, apart from four pieces of John Tavener and five contemporary Christmas carols that they included on two of their most recent discs. (To make a point, let’s overlook the Richard Einhorn work that they sang for Sony.) The 20 religious songs heard here come from early American tradition. Specifically, the titles are identified variously as folk hymn, gospel song, revival song, psalm tune, religious ballad, and fuguing tune. All have a simplicity that is not far removed from the sensibility of medieval sacred music.

The first hymn makes this point forcefully with an example of shape-note singing that begins with the melody sung to sol-fa syllables. This was an 18th-century technique that replaced lining out, in which a line of text was recited by a leader before being sung by the congregation. This technique worked even with four-part harmony, but I wouldn’t expect it to sound as accomplished as the sparkling treatment heard at the beginning of this disc. After all, the sol-fa rendition would have been sight-reading! But no matter, it leads directly into two verses of Holy manna. Abbeville follows, sung to a text clearly translated (without citation) from Veni Creator Spiritus. Jewett uses the familiar text of Amazing grace. With New Britain we are back to sol-fa syllables, followed by the text of Amazing grace sung to its familiar melody. Poor wayfaring stranger became a staple of folk singers, but was seldom rendered as exquisitely as it is here. Sweet Prospect gives us another taste of sol-fa, and Shall we gather at the river provides another familiar gospel song. Parting hand comes in sol-fa form like the earlier examples, letting us hear the entire melody before several verses are sung.

Perhaps another listener would find every song as familiar as the few that I know, but this disc shows how high art can exalt simple music. It’s a delight, and the subtitle, “songs of hope, redemption, and glory,” gives a good idea of what to look for. The disc marks a return to the Skywalker Sound Studio almost 13 years after the group’s first recording. Goodbye, ladies, it has been a grand series, these 15 discs, every one a winner. We look forward to another Hildegard disc within the year, and we will be eagerly awaiting your next move.

J. F. Weber, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Abbeville by E.J. King
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1844; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
2.
Wondrous Love by James Christopher
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1825; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
3.
Sweet hour of prayer by William Bradbury
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
4.
Jewett by R.F.M. Mann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1869; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
5.
Dunlap's Creek by Freeman Lewis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
6.
The Morning Trumpet by Benjamin Franklin White
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
7.
Resignation by Freeman Lewis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 10 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
8.
Poland by Timothy Swan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Classical 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 54 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
9.
Wayfaring stranger by Traditional
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Arranger: John M. Dye. 
10.
Sweet by and by by Joseph Philbrick Webster
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1867; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Arranger: Johanna Rose. 
11.
Blooming Vale by J.P. Storm
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
12.
Idumea by Ananias Davisson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 36 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
13.
The Southern Harmony: Sweet Prospect by William Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1835; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
14.
Shall we gather at the river? by Robert Lowry
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1864; Brooklyn, New York, 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 4 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
15.
Death like an overflowing stream "Amanda" by Justin Morgan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1790; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
16.
The Southern Harmony: Invitation by William Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1835; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 32 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
17.
The Southern Harmony: Parting Hand by William Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1835; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
18.
Angel Band by William Bradbury
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Arrangers: Johanna Rose; Marsha Genensky. 
19.
New Britain by William Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1835; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 3 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
20.
Holy Manna by William Moore
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Anonymous 4
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1825; USA 
Date of Recording: 05/2003 
Venue:  Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA 
Length: 2 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Language: English 

Featured Sound Samples

Sweet By and By (Webster)
Shall We Gather at the River (Lowry)

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