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American Choral Music - Persichetti, Schuman, Bolcom, Fine, Ross

Persichetti / Univ Texas Chamber Singers / Morrow
Release Date: 07/27/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559358   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Vincent PersichettiWilliam SchumanWilliam BolcomIrving Fine,   ... 
Conductor:  James Morrow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Texas Chamber Singers
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Perhaps this disc should bear the title "American Choral Music, Volume 2", as this same choir--a world-class group in every respect--released a similarly interesting, well-chosen, and impeccably-sung program of American works (by Ives, Corigliano, Persichetti, Foss, and Copland) for this same label in 2007. Choral music fans should be very grateful to James Morrow and his excellent young singers, not only for the exemplary choral performances but for documenting repertoire that inexplicably remains rarely recorded.

Vincent Persichetti's Mass could function equally well as a liturgical or concert piece, and its vibrant harmonic character--that somewhat ambiguous yet still tonal melding of modal aspects with added-
Read more and subtracted-note triadic structures, sometimes described (in the latter 20th-century) as "modern-classicism"--works very well with the timbres of voices, and after hearing the University of Texas Chamber Singers' absolutely dead-on rendition, you just want to go out and perform the work yourself. It's as finely written and attractive a piece of 20th-century sacred music as you'll hear, and it's not so difficult as to be beyond the reach of serious amateur choirs.

William Schuman's Carols of Death, set to texts by Walt Whitman, are in their own way just as affecting and memorable as the Persichetti, even if the technical demands for the singers are that much greater and likewise the challenges for the listener. William Bolcom's The Mask (the program's most recently composed work), a song cycle with piano based on poems by African American poets, shows a (mostly) skillful integration of sung texts and music, engages the ear and emotions with its clever references to ragtime and blues--and features one movement of solo piano, which is among the disc's highlights. In the first movement the piano sometimes seems superfluous or even irrelevant to the choral parts, and the piano's clamorous bass just sounds excessive (a clue to this very percussive quality may be found in the texts, but these are only available online).

The earliest work on the program, Irving Fine's The Hour-Glass, sets six poems by 17th-century English poet Ben Jonson. Not only is this by far the most virtuosic group of pieces on the disc, but Fine's text-setting is the most imaginative and effective and masterful. The soloists here are outstanding. Finally, Lukas Foss' Psalms are typically easily accessible (not that there's anything wrong with that!) but also typically just a bit frothy (a word I always find myself using with this composer), but you can't help but love the Psalm 23, which gently, peacefully closes the disc, the sopranos floating a lovely high-A. The sound, from a church in Austin, Texas, is sensitive and true to the singers and (except for the one above-mentioned instance) to the piano(s). A superb and important addition to the catalog--highly recommended.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Mass, Op. 84 by Vincent Persichetti
Conductor:  James Morrow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Texas Chamber Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; USA 
2.
Carols of Death by William Schuman
Conductor:  James Morrow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Texas Chamber Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; USA 
3.
The Mask by William Bolcom
Conductor:  James Morrow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Texas Chamber Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991; USA 
4.
The Hour Glass by Irving Fine
Conductor:  James Morrow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Texas Chamber Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
5.
Psalms by Lukas Foss
Conductor:  James Morrow
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University of Texas Chamber Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955-1956 

Sound Samples

Mass, Op. 84: Kyrie
Mass, Op. 84: Gloria
Mass, Op. 84: Credo
Mass, Op. 84: Sanctus
Mass, Op. 84: Agnus Dei
Carols of Death: No. 2. The Unknown Region
Carols of Death: No. 3. To All, To Each
The Mask: No. 1. We Wear the Mask
The Mask: No. 2. Heritage
The Mask: No. 3. Shadow
The Mask: No. 4. Worn Faces
The Mask: No. 5. Interlude for Natalie
The Mask: No. 6. Portrait
The Hour-Glass: No. 1. O know to end as to begin
The Hour-Glass: No. 2. Have you seen the white lily grow?
The Hour-Glass: No. 3. O do not wanton with those eyes
The Hour-Glass: No. 4. Against Jealousy
The Hour-Glass: No. 5. Lament
The Hour-Glass: No. 6.
Psalms: Part I: Psalm 122:1-2, 95:4
Psalms: Part II: Psalm 98:1, 4, 6
Psalms: Part III: Psalm 23:1-3

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