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Matthew Brown: Though Love Be A Day

Brown / Antioch Chamber Ensemble / Copeland
Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Acis Productions   Catalog #: 18719   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



M. BROWN Though Love Be a Day. Another Lullaby for Insomniacs. A Red, Red Rose. Sweet Was the Song. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. It May Not Always Be So. Daybreak. Above: Three Dreamsongs of the Wintu People. Sitivit Anima Mea. O Magnum Mysterium. O Ecclesia. Table Grace. STEINBERG/KELLY (arr. Brown) True Colors Joshua Copeland, cond; Antioch C Ens ACIS 18719 (68:15 Text and Translation)

Read more /> I did not know the work of Matthew Brown when I asked to review this CD. Brown studied at the USC Thornton School of Music with, among others, Morton Lauridsen, Frank Ticheli, and songwriter and screen composer Randy Newman. I did know the work of Antioch Chamber Ensemble from its two previous releases on MSR and a private label. The MSR release was reviewed by four critics, including me, for a Fanfare feature in 34:4. I was immensely impressed by the precision, security, and most of all, musicality, of this remarkable professional chamber choir. It is, on the evidence of the first two recordings, an equal of any choir in the world. This is different, however, from the earlier releases. It is an entire disc dedicated to the work of this one relatively unknown Southern California composer. It ends with a 1986 pop song made famous by Cyndi Lauper. It seemed a surprising gamble, on the face of it.


I need not have concerned myself; Copeland’s taste in repertoire remains true. Except for the rather prosaic True Colors , in an undeniably skillful arrangement, this is music of real substance in the West Coast Lauridsen/Whitacre mold. As do his choral mentors, Brown draws upon ageless models and makes them new through twists of counterpoint and harmony. His choices only occasionally push envelopes of expectation, but all of the works are solidly crafted and often imaginative. The title work, Though Love be a Day , is a madrigal-like setting of E. E. Cummings’s poem “Thy fingers make early flowers.” He uses a “sigh motive” in the medieval style to set off the Francis William Bourdillon poem “The night has a thousand eyes.” A drone and Scottish snaps enhance Robert Burns’s words in A Red, Red Rose.


The settings may at times lack the distinction of the work of his better-known colleagues, though they never lack beauty. Daybreak seems to wander about harmonically without coalescing into a completely satisfying form, despite the composer’s evocation of the madrigal. The Three Dreamsongs of the Wintu People are, perhaps, dreamlike to a fault. However, in Sitivit anima mea , Brown’s plainsong psalm and antiphon moves and surprises with its outbursts of ecstatic harmony, and in his O magnum mysterium —a tribute to Tomás Luis de Victoria—the unusual harmonic progression to the ecstatic and unresolved alleluias raises shivers. The composer is at his most affecting in the glorious evocation of Hildegard of Bingen’s sapphire clouds in O Ecclesia , in the deceptive simplicity of his prize-winning carol Sweet Was the Song , and in the unassuming and touching setting of Gary David Johnson’s sonnet “Table Grace.” (There is some confusion in the booklet about authorship. The poem is attributed to Garrison Keillor in the composer’s note, but to Johnson with the text and on Keillor’s blog.)


The chorus sings gloriously throughout, with a faultless sense of style to complement the faultless technique, even in the pop tune. If the recording was as fine as the performing, this review would be unequivocally positive. However, for reasons unclear, the sound here is a radical departure from the well-blended but clear recordings of the past. Here the chorus is lost in a blur of resonance which obscures most words and destroys any sense of intimacy or presence. It is almost as if it was recorded from the ambient microphones with the mains left off. The engineering isn’t enough to put me off of a recommendation, but I hope the chorus will reconsider next time. This is too fine a group to hide in such an aural haze.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

1. Though Love Be a Day by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
2. Another Lullaby for Insomniacs by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
3. A Red, Red Rose by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
4. Sweet Was the Song, for celeste & chorus by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
5. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
6. It May Not Always Be So by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
7. Daybreak by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
8. Above by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
9. Sitivit Anima Mea by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
10. O Magnum Mysterium by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
11. O Ecclesia by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
12. Table Grace by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble
13. True Colors by Matthew Brown
Conductor:  Joshua Copeland
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Antioch Chamber Ensemble

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