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"By the Rivers of Babylon - American Psalmody II"
Charles Martin LOEFFLER
(1861-1935)

By the Rivers of Babylon, Op 3 (1901) [11.08]
Br. Patrick Clark, Sr. Evangeline Ingwersen, flutes
Sr. Mary Magdalene Buddington, harp
Sr. Hope Vaccaro, cello
Virgil THOMSON (1896-1989)
Three Antiphonal Psalms

Psalm 123 [1.17]; Psalm 133 [1.51]; Psalm 136 [2.23]
De Profundis (Psalm 130) (1920) [2.46]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

De Profundis (Psalm 130) (1950) [5.49]
Sr. Estelle Cole, Br. Richard Cragg, Br. Tim Pehta, Br. Francis Hempel, solo quartet
Sr. Lucia Smith, soprano; Luke Norman, baritone.
Clifford TAYLOR (1923-1987)

Sing to the Lord a New Song (Psalm 98) (1959) [3.23]
Jean BERGER (1909- )

The Eyes of All Wait Upon Thee [2.21]
Kent A. NEWBURY (1925- )

Praise Ye the Lord [3.24]
Gerald NEAR (1942 - )

My Song Shall Always Be the Loving Kindnss of the Lord [2.13]
Samuel ADLER (1928- )

Psalm 84 [3.44]; Psalm 42 [2.25]; Psalm 113 (1998) [1.52]
Bruce NESWICK (1956- )

Halleluja! Sing Unto the Lord a New Song [3.35]
Robert STARER (1924- )

Give Thanks Unto the Lord [3.24]
David Ashley WHITE (20th cent.)

Cantate Domino [5.41]
Paul Tingley, Sr. Rosemary Ingwersen, trumpets; James Pfeiffer, trombone;
Sr. Victoria McNeil, Horn; Br. Christopher Swidrak, tuba
GLORIÆ DEI CANTORES, Elizabeth C. Patterson, conductor; James E. Jordan, organ
Recorded at Methuen Memorial Music Hall, Massachusetts, USA, November 1998
Booklet notes and texts in English
Distributed in USA and Canada by Paraclete Press, www.paraclete-press.com
GLORIÆ DEI CANTORES GDCD 027 [56.04]


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Those who know the Deux Rapsodies of Loeffler but are maybe, like me, a little disappointed by his Pagan Poem, will find the Loeffler they love in this beautiful work, which is musically the jewel of this album. Unfortunately, the difficult intervals and reaches of this music in performance reveal a few rough edges on the chorus’ technique, but nothing not easily forgiven in the face of this wonderful music and our gratitude to them for bringing it to us.

These works by Virgil Thomson are very skilfully written but not remarkable in regard to his other works, although the setting of Psalm 136 attains an uncommon dramatic urgency. Pairing the next work, a setting of Psalm 130, with the following Schoenberg work on the same text allows one to compare two totally different approaches, and demonstrates the clear difference between competence and genius.

The severe difficulties of the Schoenberg "De Profundis" have brought out the best in this group, and the give us an excellent performance. This is the strongly dramatic Schoenberg of Moses und Aron, and as Tovey pointed out the adventurous harmonic language can just as easily be explained in terms of traditional harmony as it might be through any special "atonal" or "serial" technique. This is anguished, passionate music, with no gratuitous or fashionable dissonance. All the singers perform their difficult parts with commitment and excellent tone, to overwhelming effect.

Samuel Adler’s excellent textbook on orchestration sits open on my desk whenever I’m reading scores; these compositions of his are ingeniously contrapuntal but otherwise unremarkable.

As I said in my review of Volume 1, when I saw this disk performed by a chorus and musicians resident at a religious commune on Cape Cod, distributed by them to be sold in church bookstores, and consisting exclusively of Psalm settings, I was, to say the least, not looking forward to hearing it. I am for the most part a Buddhist and generic Jahvistic religious music usually bores me at best. However, after one look at the list of composers and ten minutes into the disk I was cheering. The Psalms after all are Hebrew poetry and part of our common human heritage of great literature. Even sung in English there’s not much for even an agnostic to find objectionable in the texts, which don’t actually come across that clearly most of the time anyway. But obviously they do serve to inspire the singers, who are excellent. No Sunday amateur church choir here!

The Kent Newbury setting of Psalm 150, and the Cantate Domino of David Ashley White are rousing and memorable, but also churchy and repetitive. The rest of the music on this disk is much of a type, modern American religious choral music with a certain sound, every bit as monotonous as medieval church music can be, albeit using different chords. Unless you are following the program it’s hard to tell when one piece ends and another begins. As settings of the texts for devotional use they are skilfully written and not unpleasant to listen to and the performers do their best to vary the texture and give us urgent, effective renderings.

Paul Shoemaker



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