MARTIN Mass for Double Choir. GRIEG 4 Psalms. HANSON Cherubic Hymn • Elizabeth Patterson, cond; Gloriæ Dei Cantores • GLORIÆ DEI CANTORES GDCD 048 (SACD: 65:35 Text and Translation)
“Mandorla,” this album’s title, is a word derived from the Italian for “almond” that encompasses the tension between opposites—the spiritual and the earthly, theRead more divine and the human. The promotional material with this disc refers to “the transparency and tension of that ‘thin place’ where heaven and earth meet.” While I find something a bit precious about the title, there is nothing precious about the disc itself. This is a terrific recording, featuring repertoire that only a truly imaginative mind would think of combining on one disc.
Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir has been recorded many times, despite the fact that Martin withheld it from publication for many years. It is, in fact, a true masterpiece—one of his greatest religious works. Intimate, spiritual, deeply felt, and at the same time unceasingly varied, this is music that draws the listener into its world. This performance is at the level of the best recordings that I know of the work (Corboz on Cascavelle 1025, Shaw on Telarc 8040C, and Harry Christophers on Coro 16029). The blend of voices of this 40-voice choir could hardly be bettered. It is headquartered in Orleans, Massachusetts, and sings every Sunday at the Church of the Transfiguration there, where this disc was recorded, and it also gives concerts and tours the world. So its members’ sense of ensemble is no surprise. They manage to retain a rich tone at the softest dynamics, and they sing with a real presence.
Grieg’s Four Psalms, op. 72, are less frequently recorded, though there is a nice version on BIS (1661, with the Norwegian Soloists Choir), but this one is at least as good. The music was written near the end of Grieg’s life, and you can hear the essence of Scandinavian folk music and traditional hymns that are at the roots of these settings.
Howard Hanson’s Cherubic Hymn has, according to the Gloriæ Dei Cantores, only been recorded once before, under the composer’s direction. Although I have many of Hanson’s Mercury recordings, I do not have this one, and have no familiarity with it. Unlike the Martin and Grieg, which are a cappella, the Hanson is for choir and organ. I am a big fan of Hanson’s music, and take the general view that he is given unfairly short shrift by the music establishment, but this does not seem to me one of his strongest works. There is just a bit of the sense of a contrapuntal exercise here, instead of the level of melodic inspiration that marks his best music. Still, the old Hanson recording is not in print (at least I couldn’t find it on a few Internet sites), and it is good to have it.
The combination of pieces is one of the assets of this disc, but another is the very strong set of performances. Add to that a well-balanced choral sound with good perspective, when heard in the two-channel stereo version, and excellent accompanying notes, and you have a complete winner.
Mass for Double Chorusby Frank Martin Conductor:
Elizabeth C. Patterson
Gloriae Dei Cantores
Period: 20th Century Written: Switzerland Date of Recording: 08/2009 Venue: Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, Length: 26 Minutes 34 Secs.
Psalms (4), Op. 74by Edvard Grieg Performer:
Wayne Schuman ()
Period: Romantic Written: 1906; Norway Date of Recording: 08/2009 Venue: Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, Length: 23 Minutes 58 Secs.
The Cherubic Hymn, for chorus, Op. 37by Howard Hanson Performer:
James Jordan (Organ)
Period: Modern Written: 1949 Date of Recording: 08/2009 Venue: Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, Length: 13 Minutes 37 Secs.