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Frank La Rocca: In This Place / Dimmock, Brandes, Artists Vocal Ensemble

La Rocca / Artists Vocal Ensemble / Dimmock
Release Date: 01/08/2013 
Label:  Enharmonic Records   Catalog #: 25   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frank La Rocca
Performer:  Christine Brandes
Conductor:  Jonathan Dimmock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artists Vocal EnsembleStrata (ensemble)
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LA ROCCA O Magnum Mysterium 1. Expectavi Dominum 1. Meditation 2. Miserere 1. In This Place 3. O Sacrum Convivium 1. Veni Sancte Spiritus 4. Credo 1 Read more class="SUPER12">1 Jonathan Dimmock, cond; 4 Christine Brandes (sop); 2 Audrey Andrist (pn); 3 Strata; 1 Artists Vocal Ens ENHARMONIC 12-025 (64:26)

On the welcome page of Frank La Rocca’s (b. 1951) website is a short quote from a prayer written by St. Augustine “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!” The original intent was confession, but here the quote serves as well to describe an aesthetic. The California-based composer, for over 30 years professor of music at California State University, East Bay, writes music unmistakably inspired by liturgical chant and the masters of the Renaissance and Baroque, but filtered through a musical sensibility informed by the works of 20th-century modernists: beauty ever ancient, ever new very literally. I have commented on several occasions on the wealth of choral music being written today, referring to this time as a new golden age of choral composition. Hearing this music only reinforces that belief. La Rocca’s style is similar to that of fellow American composers Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen and will appeal to anyone who responds to the mystical, ecstatic sacred music of these two masters of the genre. On consideration of the works included here, La Rocca should almost certainly be considered their peer.

The program consists primarily of settings of ancient Christian texts for mixed chorus: a touchingly restrained O Magnum Mysterium , an Expectavi Dominum of stirring dissonances and dramatic contrasts, a Miserere of uncommon intensity and ultimate reconciliation, a reverently expectant Eucharistic hymn O Sacrum Convivium , and a vivid setting of the Credo—very occasionally recalling Poulenc—with two plainchant incipits for liturgical presentation. However, producer David DeBoor Canfield (it should be noted, a Fanfare contributor) has also included samples of La Rocca’s instrumental and chamber output: a short, improvisatory, very personal Meditation for solo piano—pleasant music without quite the appeal of the choral works—and In This Place , a simple, melancholy, and rather haunting chant-based work for clarinet-violin-piano trio, played in baroque style. The trio is performed by the first-rate ensemble, Strata, the Meditation by its pianist Audrey Andrist.

The same spirit permeates the single solo vocal work, the sequence hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus for soprano, clarinet, and string quartet. The hymn is sung with great feeling and purity of tone by Christine Brandes, accompanied by clarinetist Diane Maltester, and a quartet of baroque violins, viola, and cello played by Katie Kyme, Anthony Martin, David Daniel Bowes, and Paul Hale, respectively. The quartet, all members of the Philharmonia Baroque, often sounds, not unreasonably, like a viol consort. The recording of Veni Sante Spiritus was made live, judging from some mildly audible audience and traffic noise.

The 16-voice, San Francisco-based Artists Vocal Ensemble (AVE), a professional chorus specializing in Renaissance polyphony, sings in a brightly resonant space, unspecified in the notes, that supports blend while maintaining clarity of line and text. The chorus—or rather two choruses, as there were apparently two sessions separated by some time, with rosters that only share three singers—sings with admirable precision, intonation, and blend, employing little or no vibrato and maintaining a warmth of tone even when working at range extremes. They are led by their founder and music director, organist and early music authority Jonathan Dimmock, who shapes the music with great sensitivity.

It is hard to figure why this recognition has been so long in coming. Thanks to Enharmonic records for letting us finally hear Frank La Rocca’s music; this is a lovely release, filled with superbly crafted and achingly beautiful music. If I have any reservations, it has to do with the relative uniformity of mood and tempo of the various works. I found that I enjoyed the music most if I listened to one or two works at a time. That aside, this is all most impressive, and most warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

O Magnum Mysterium by Frank La Rocca
Conductor:  Jonathan Dimmock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artists Vocal Ensemble
Expectavi Dominum by Frank La Rocca
Conductor:  Jonathan Dimmock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artists Vocal Ensemble
Meditation by Frank La Rocca
Miserere by Frank La Rocca
Conductor:  Jonathan Dimmock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artists Vocal Ensemble
In This Place by Frank La Rocca
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Strata (ensemble)
O Sacrum Convivium by Frank La Rocca
Conductor:  Jonathan Dimmock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artists Vocal Ensemble
Veni sancte spiritus by Frank La Rocca
Performer:  Christine Brandes (Soprano)
Credo by Frank La Rocca
Conductor:  Jonathan Dimmock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artists Vocal Ensemble

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