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Songs Of Smaller Creatures And Other American Choral Works

Betinis / Bell / Grant Park Chorus
Release Date: 06/26/2012 
Label:  Cedille Records   Catalog #: 131   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Abbie BetinisLee KesselmanEric WhitacreStacy Garrop,   ... 
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

There are no less than four recording premieres on this program, an aspect of many of Cedille’s projects over the years that perhaps doesn’t get enough attention, but for which those of us who look forward to and even depend on the creation and promotion of new works are always grateful. The disc’s title comes from Abbie Betinis’ set of three “songs of smaller creatures”, specifically bees, a spider, and butterflies, the texts respectively from Walter de la Mare, Walt Whitman, and Charles Swinburne. The opener, “the bees’ song”, is a riotous—perhaps I should say “zzzintillating”—tribute to de la Mare’s onomatopoeic lines: “Thousandz of thornz there be/On the Rozez where gozez/The Zebra of Zee…” (Pay attention throughout the song’s 71 Read more seconds, and you’ll notice the fleeting quote from “Flight of the Bumblebee”!) The other two songs are similarly attentive to creating a sound representation of their texts and subjects, with only the final one, about butterflies, seeming a bit labored at the end. The style of these, and of most of the works on the disc, is in the modern tradition of choral composition that’s fundamentally tonal but whose extensive use of dissonant harmony renders any firmly discernible tonality ambiguous, often unconfirmed until a final cadence.

Illinois-based composer Lee Kesselman contributes his own take on the subject of bees (and as a beekeeper, I certainly approve!), with Three Pieces about Bees, texts by Emily Dickinson. The last song, “Bee! I’m expecting you!”, is a delightful monologue, full of humor and clever vocal writing that’s more like speech than song. The Grant Park Chorus proves here and throughout this program of very challenging works (listen to a brief passage from Stacy Garrop’s “I shall forget you presently, my dear” in the sound clip below) its world-class ensemble stature, and any fan of choral music interested in the more-or-less contemporary “scene” should enjoy not only the singing, but the manner in which these composers handle text and expressive vocal technique.

Not all of the music is recently contemporary: the Kesselman pieces, as well as works by David del Tredici and Ned Rorem date from the 1970s; Paul Crabtree’s Five Romantic Miniatures (based on “texts” from, of all things, the television show The Simpsons!) are from 1999; and even the two Eric Whitacre works are more than 10 years old. Tredici’s beautiful song from his Final Alice is of course the most solidly tonal on the program, but it still somehow remains fresh-sounding, its last phrase (which is identical to that in the hymn-tune “Madrid”) remaining long and not unpleasantly in your ear. Unlike the other works on the disc, the Whitacre pieces have been recorded so many times by now—I for one would have loved to hear some other contemporary but less-familiar music. However, since this repertoire was designed for a concert (recorded at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park, Chicago), I can understand the reasoning for programing these works by one of today’s most popular choral composers. Finally, a detail that all choral directors will appreciate—and one that all producers of choral recordings should emulate—is the inclusion of publisher information for the compositions. Strongly recommended!

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

1.
Songs of Smaller Creatures by Abbie Betinis
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
2.
Buzzings by Lee Kesselman
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
3.
When David Heard by Eric Whitacre
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; USA 
4.
Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy by Stacy Garrop
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 21st Century 
Written: USA 
5.
Final Alice: Acrostic Songs by David Del Tredici
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1976; USA 
6.
Motets (7) for the Church Year by Ned Rorem
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; USA 
7.
Romantic Miniatures (5) by Paul Crabtree
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 20th/21st Centuries 
Written: USA 
8.
Sleep by Eric Whitacre
Conductor:  Christopher Bell
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Grant Park Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2000; USA 

Sound Samples

Songs of Smaller Creatures: I. The Bees' Song
Songs of Smaller Creatures: II. A noiseless, patient spider
Songs of Smaller Creatures: III. Envoi
Buzzings: No. 1. To make a prairie
Buzzings: No. 2. A Bee his burnished Carriage
Buzzings: No. 3. Bee! I'm expecting you!
When David Heard
Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy: No. 1. Now by this moon, before this moon shall wane
Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy: No. 2. Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy: No. 3. I shall forget you presently, my dear
Final Alice: Acrostic Song
7 Motets for the Church Year: No. 1. When all things were in quiet silence (Christmas)
7 Motets for the Church Year: No. 2. Before the morning star begotten (Epiphany)
7 Motets for the Church Year: No. 3. Lay up for yourselves (Ash Wednesday)
7 Motets for the Church Year: No. 4. Praise him who was crucified (Easter)
7 Motets for the Church Year: No. 5. God Is gone up (Ascension)
7 Motets for the Church Year: No. 6. Today the Holy Spirit appeared (Pentecost)
7 Motets for the Church Year: No. 7. Rejoice we all in the Lord (All Saints)
5 Romantic Miniatures: No. 1. Abe
5 Romantic Miniatures: No. 2. Lisa
5 Romantic Miniatures: No. 3. Homer
5 Romantic Miniatures: No. 4. Marge
5 Romantic Miniatures: No. 5. Homer
Sleep

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