52,943 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  


Some items
to consider

£11 post-free anywhere
Normal service resumed


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas


Recordings of the Month


Beethoven String Quartets

Produzioni Armoniche

Seven Symphonic Poems

Shostakovich VC1 Baiba Skride
Tchaikovsky Symph 5 Nelsons

Vivaldi Violin Concertos



Beethoven Piano Concertos

Stradal Transcriptions

LOSY Note d’oro

Scarlatti Sonatas Vol 2

alternatively AmazonUK   AmazonUS



American Choral Music
Vincent PERSICHETTI (1915-1987) Flower Songs, Op. 157 (1983) [19:25]
Charles IVES (1874-1954) Psalm 90 (1923-24) [11:06]
John CORIGLIANO (b. 1938) Fern Hill* (1960) [15:33]
Lukas FOSS (b. 1922) Behold, I build an House† (1950) [10:05]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) In the Beginning* (1947) [16:02]
Suzanne Mentzer (mezzo)*
The University of Texas Chamber Singers and Chamber Orchestra/James Morrow
rec. 21-22 January 2006, Bates Recital Hall, School of Music, University of Texas, Austin. DDD


I have one complaint Ė and one only Ė about this disc: the absence of texts. I presume this is due to issues of copyright/expense. That may be understandable but itís a great shame since it seems to me that an important element in judging any vocal music is the way in which the composer has responded to the words that are being set.

The songs by the Philadelphian composer, Vincent Persichetti offer a case in point. These are settings of seven poems by e.e.Cummings. Now Cummings is a poet whose work can be hard to assimilate at the best of times but without the words in front of me I really find it hard to assess how successful these are. But given that limitation Iíd say that the settings, for mixed choir and string orchestra, are attractive and accessible. The useful notes tell us that Persichetti ďcarefully arranged the texts into a loosely-constructed cycle on the theme of love and loss.Ē There are some lovely choral textures to savour Ė Persichetti seems to write very well for voices Ė and the string accompaniment is just right. I enjoyed these songs, which Iíd not previously heard, very much and the performance seems to be very good indeed.

Another work that Iíd not encountered before is John Coriglianoís Fern Hill. This is an early work, written just after his graduation, and in it he sets a poem by Dylan Thomas for mezzo-soprano, chorus and chamber orchestra. In the booklet the composer is quoted as saying that he was ďaiming in the music to match the forthright lyricism of the text.Ē Well, though I havenít had access to the text my sense is that he definitely succeeded. This is an enormously attractive, accessible score in which voices and instruments blend superbly Ė the writing for woodwind is especially effective. Corigliano also states ďThe direction ďwith simplicityĒ is often to be found in the printed score.Ē Thatís a quality thatís evident, for example, in the lovely flowing opening. The mezzo solo comes in the middle of the piece and itís beautifully delivered by Suzanne Mentzer. She has a rich and expressive voice and itís well suited to this easeful, lyrical music. This work seems to breathe the open air. If listeners are looking for a signpost Iíd suggest that anyone who likes Barberís wonderfully evocative Knoxville will respond equally positively to this piece. This is an engaging, delightfully lyrical work and I enjoyed it from first bar to last and count it as a real discovery.

Behold, I build an House by Lukas Foss is a very different sort of piece. Commissioned for the opening service of the ecumenical chapel at Boston University, it sets words from the Second Book of Chronicles in which the building of Solomonís temple is described. This was another work that Iíd not previously encountered and it impressed me. The important organ part is most imaginatively played by Seung Won Cho and the choir sings splendidly. I admired especially their dynamic control in the meditative, prayerful closing pages.

Iíve come across the other pieces before. The highly individual psalm setting by Charles Ives features typically quirky and inventive harmonies. The accompaniment by organ and occasional bells is most interesting. I have to say that itís a piece that intrigues me rather more than it moves me. The choral writing is far from easy but the Texas choir seem completely at ease with its complexities and the short soprano and tenor solos are well taken by choir members. As in the Foss piece, the quiet singing is especially noteworthy and the hushed, consonant close of the piece is very well handled.

Finally we hear Coplandís masterly In the Beginning. Thereís an interesting link here in that the first performance of this work was conducted, in 1947, by the doyen of American choral conductors, Robert Shaw. The conductor of this disc, James Morrow, sang with Shaw and his Robert Shaw Festival Singers and as a baritone soloist on some of Shawís recordings. Iíve had occasion to review a couple of performances of this piece in recent months. Both of them were by English church choirs, which included boy trebles. Though those performances were good the exemplary account on this present CD shows that this work really needs a mixed adult choir if itís to make its full effect. The performance benefits hugely from the impressive contribution of Suzanne Mentzer. Hers is probably the richest solo voice Iíve yet heard in this work but the richness does not hamper clarity Ė you can hear every word. Iím sure her operatic experience helps. The choral contribution is pretty impressive too. The jazzy writing with which Copland depicts the creation of light on the fourth day is very well done. Equally successful is the passage about the creation of man on the sixth day, which is as exciting and ecstatic as Copland can have wished for. Copland told a student choir in 1980: ďCreation was quite a stunt, so make it grand.Ē Thatís certainly achieved here, not least at the very end where the singing of the words ďand man became a living soulĒ is indeed grand. This is as fine a performance of this work as Iíve heard.

The fine Copland performance concludes an excellent disc. The choir is consistently splendid. Itís evident that James Morrow has trained them very well indeed. Balance, tuning and intonation are all exemplary and, as far as I could judge without access to scores, their rhythmic security is also spot-on. Though the singers are, presumably, fairly young and have a nice fresh tone thereís also a fullness and depth to the tone that you donít always get with student choirs. The recorded sound is excellent and the liner notes are very useful.

The absence of texts is a pity but it doesnít dim my enthusiasm for this very stimulating collection of fine performances of mainly unfamiliar repertoire.†

John Quinn

Naxos American Classics page


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.