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Nick Peros: Motets / Cunningham, Renaissance Singers

Release Date: 03/17/2009 
Label:  Phoenix Usa   Catalog #: 5637415125  
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PEROS Motets: Love and Faithfulness. You Have Made Known To Me. Blessed Is the Man. All Glorious Is the Princess. He That Follows Me. I Call on You, O God. And I in Righteousness. He Reached Down from on High. I Love You, O Lord My Strength. Where Morning Dawns. May the Lord Answer You. I Will Praise You, O Lord. O God You Are My God. The Lord Is My Shepherd. How Long, O Lord. The Righteous Shall Blossom. Veni Sponsa Christi. I Will Sing of the Lord’s Great Love. Shout for Joy Richard Cunningham, cond; Renaissance Singers Read more class="ARIAL12"> PHOENIX 878 (66:26 Text and Translation)

This, the first CD of Nick Peros’s music, was recorded and released in 1999. The music sets religious texts, and in fact my initial impression of the disc—listening in a general way without really analyzing the music—was of choral works that sounded like a modern-day Palestrina. I believe the comparison is apt. Peros, like Palestrina, knows the secret of moving voices around within choral passages, and several of these pieces (particularly I Love You O Lord ) have a Palestrina-like sound. The modernity comes from his subtle use of harmonic shifting, of using not only the tonic but notes within a chord to pivot the harmony, and in this his music sometimes resembles Fauré. Perhaps this is easier to follow in a slow work like You Have Made Known to Me than in a fast-paced one like Love and Faithfulness, but either way one is entranced by the way Peros’s melodic line, primarily tonal, floats over shifting harmonies. One of the most complex of them, All Glorious Is the Princess, almost never rests on the tonic but, rather, on an augmented variant, which keeps the regular and tuneful melody going forward but never quite resolving until the very end when it finally settles on B?-Major. Another reason for the extra complexity of this motet is that he is balancing five parts rather than just two or four.

Peros is also adept at writing what I would term “cheerful” rhythms and counterpoint. So many of these motets are upbeat in a way that one seldom associates with modern religious music—particularly the last one, Shout for Joy, which ends with the sopranos exuberantly singing high Gs and the D below, over and over on alternate beats, for several measures at the end while the tenors and basses sing varying harmonies underneath. Most of the texts are from the Book of Psalms, with one from the Book of John ( He That Follows Me ) and one from Ecclesiastes ( Blessed Is the Man ). Peros’s use of counterpoint is also quite interesting in that it is always functional—meaning that it is wedded to text and has a specific purpose of emphasizing words—rather than being a sheer musical device. In a piece like Blessed Is the Man, which unlike All Glorious sounds resolutely tonal and regular, the casual ear is led astray from the subtle and numerous harmonic shifts, so perfectly natural do they all sound. It takes a master to make the difficult easy; almost anyone can do the opposite. Thus this is music of tremendous mastery.

As for the performances, they have a textural clarity about them as refreshing as it is rare. I recently complained in a review of one choral group that everything it did sounded exactly the same, which was mostly thick and dull, despite a perfect blend. The Renaissance Singers, conversely, have an almost crystalline sound. Every strand of the vocal parts, but especially those of the women, is clear as a bell, and both their phrasing and use of dynamics is not only masterly but sounds as natural as a mountain stream. Their one drawback is enunciation. You can just barely discern that these motets are in English, but you really can’t make out many of the words without using the printed text as a guide. Yet considering the fact that motets by Nick Peros aren’t probably going to show up on EMI, DG, or even in a Brilliant Classics boxed set, one puts this caveat aside. This is remarkable music, remarkably performed.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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