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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Wondrous Love
Wondrous Love (The Southern Harmony, 1835) [1:10]
Motherless Child (Traditional Spiritual, arr. Adolphus HAILSTORK (b. 1941)) [4:14]
Neil FARRELL (b. 1959) Drop, Drop, Slow Tears [3:08]
PÉROTIN (ca. 1183 Ė ca. 1238) Organum quadruplum: Sederunt [3:19]
Lament of Rachel (From Slaughter of the Innocents, Fleury, France, 13th century) [3:02]
Carlo GESUALDO (ca. 1561-1613) O vos omnes [3:29]
Crux Fidelis and Pange lingua (Gallician liturgy, late 6th century) [4:47]
Calvin HAMPSON (1938-1984) Faithful Cross [5:22]
Misereris omnium, Domine (Gregorian chant; Introit for Ash Wednesday) [3:37]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229 [8:09]
Neil FARRELL Hosanna Filio David [2:34]
John KENNEDY (b. 1959) Someday [8:03]
Thomas TALLIS (ca. 1505-1585) O Sacrum Convivium [3:37]
Kevin OLDHAM (1960-1993) Chorale [3:31]
James MACMILLAN (b. 1959) Christus Vincit [5:52]
K. Scott WARREN (b. 1971) Hallelu [3:27]
Jacob PRAETORIUS II (1585-1651) Gaudete omnes [2:23]
Phoebe P. KNAPP (1839-1908) arr. Nancy WERTSCH (b. 1948) Blessed Assurance [4:36]
Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola/Kent Tritle
rec. Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York City, 6, 7, 9, 21 September 2005
MSR CLASSICS MS1144 [74:39]

 

The Roman Catholic Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York City, benefits from having an 18-strong choir of professional singers. This choir is the fulcrum of a very active music ministry and concert programme at the church.

The present CD shows the range of the choir, including as it does repertoire that takes us from chant and medieval music via J. S. Bach to contemporary American liturgical music. The first thing to say is that all the music is extremely well served by what is evidently an expert choir that has been splendidly trained. The choir makes an excellent sound that is bright and forward Ė which I like Ė and their tuning, balance and diction are all first rate. The various solos that crop up within the recital are all taken by members of the choir and without exception they are taken to excellent effect

The choice of repertoire is quite eclectic. The music is built around the theme of a "spiritual journey", according to the rather fulsome booklet notes. This journey "may be said to reflect Christís persecution and suffering intermingled with his concession to Godís will with his redeeming final transformation into pure Love."

The music traverses the historical tradition of the Christian church and itís interesting that while all the earlier items are, inevitably, European, only one of the twentieth century items comes from the Old World. Iím afraid that medieval music, such as that by Pérotin, is not really to my taste but the choir seem to perform his piece well enough and definitely with an earthy vigour. Theyíre certainly excellent in the motet by Gesualdo in which his quirky, adventurous harmonies, which so caught the ear of Stravinsky, are well realised. The Bach motet is also very successful for the bright tone of the singers and the good balance achieved by conductor, Kent Tritle, ensures that Bachís inventive part-writing is put across with admirable clarity and life.

I also admired the way the singers delivered the chastely pure setting of O Sacrum Convivium by Tallis. The positioning of this piece on the disc is very shrewd for Tallis offers something of a relief after the complex choral textures of John Kennedyís Someday. In saying that I donít mean to disparage Mr. Kennedyís piece at all, for it is a fine one, but the Tallis piece here fulfils something of the function of a musical sorbet to refresh the listenerís palate.

John Kennedyís piece is rather typical of the twentieth-century American compositions included here for all feature a degree of rich or complex textures. Kennedyís piece sets some typically erudite and difficult words by Teilhard de Chardin. It sounds an extremely demanding piece to sing. It begins slowly, relying on inner energy for momentum but as the piece continues so the energy in the music becomes more overt. Kennedy takes his sopranos up into the stratosphere at times but these singers seem to cope admirably. Itís a most interesting piece but I did wonder if it was a little too long. The piece by Kevin Oldham is short and eloquent. Its homophonic style is deceptively simple but, once again, I canít believe itís easy to sing. Itís sung very well here and the brief ecstatic climaxes are conveyed with genuine power.

I was also impressed with Calvin Hamptonís Faithful Cross. This is an ecstatic piece that, once again, features complex choral textures. A couple of times a wonderful soprano line soars memorably out of and over the rest of the choir and a solo soprano brings the work to a lovely end. The only reservation I have is that during the second half of the piece the word "sweetest" occurs many times. Because there are so many different lines, each singing that word at different times, the effect is very sibilant. I donít think the fault lies with the singers: itís perhaps a miscalculation by the composer.

All of the modern American works Ė and their composers Ė were new to me. The sole European representative among the twentieth-century composers is James MacMillan. I have heard his outstanding Christus Vincit several times before and so this is a useful yardstick against which to measure this American choir. Suffice to say that they turn in as good a performance as Iíve heard.

The recital includes a number of modern arrangements of American music from an earlier age. The arrangement by Adolphus Hailstork of Motherless Child is effective though perhaps it lasts just a little too long. I was less taken with Scott Warrenís Hallelu. This starts off promisingly enough but soon becomes harmonically just too clever for its own good. Iím afraid a similar verdict must be delivered on Nancy Wertschís version of Blessed Assurance in which the harmonic complexities of the arrangement seem to overwhelm the essential simplicity of the original melody.

However, in a mixed recital like this itís almost inevitable that there will be some items that appeal to the listener less than others. On the whole this is a fine and nicely varied programme that is executed with skill and élan by a fine choir. The parishioners of St. Ignatius Loyola church can count themselves fortunate that their regular liturgy is enhanced by fine singing such as this.

John Quinn
www.saintignatiusloyola.org


 



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