MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


CD: Boston Secession


Surprised by beauty – Minimalism in choral music
Gavin BRYARS (b. 1943)
And so ended Kant’s travelling in this world (1997) [6.09]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
The Beatitudes
(1990) [9.04]
Ruth LOMON (b. 1930)
(2006) [6.45]
William DUCKWORTH (b. 1943)
Southern Harmony
(excerpts) (1980-81) [24.20]
William WALKER (1809-1875)
Selection from The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1835) [4.50]
Boston Secession/Jane Ring Frank
rec. June 2007, Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Experience Classicsonline

The title of this disc is “Surprised by beauty – minimalism in choral music”, but actually very little of the music on this disc is strictly minimal. Whilst Gavin Bryars and Arvo Pärt have some minimalist credentials, their music on this disc is very far from the process music which represents true minimalism. William Duckworth’s 1980-81 piece, Southern Harmony is perhaps the closest to genuine minimalism, but these re-workings of 19th century fuguing tunes still eschew the hypnotic repetition of the 1970s music of Glass and Reich. As for Ruth Lomon’s Transport, no-one would ever mistake this for a minimal piece.
So why use this title? In his introductory essay in the CD booklet, Robert Fink relates minimalism to arte povera, the minimalism of materials, finding beauty in common everyday things. Frankly, I think it would have been better to eschew a theme altogether and simply present this fascinating recital as a collection of fine 20th century choral music. In fact, looking at the four composers involved, it is fascinating how four people all born within a span of 13 years could have such a variety of creative response.
Boston Secession is a professional vocal ensemble of around 25 voices whose repertoire ranges from medieval to contemporary. This is their second CD, their first being titled Afterlife: German Choral Meditations on Mortality, a disc which included music by Hugo Distler, Brahms, Ruth Lomon and an Edwin London realization of Bach. So the group obviously do not tread the easy route when it comes to CD programming.
The disc opens with Gavin Bryars’ 1997 piece And so ended Kant’s travelling in this world, an unaccompanied choral work which uses an extract from Thomas de Quincy’s account of Kant’s final hours. The composer sets the text melodically but in a way that is quite austere and conversational, eschewing any dramatic choral effects until the end where Bryars repeats the title three times. The effect is inward and understated and quite difficult to bring off; Boston Secession do so brilliantly, performing the work with quiet intensity and beauty of tone.
This control of tone continues into Arvo Pärt’s 1990 Beatitudes, his first setting in English. Pärt creates his beautiful music out of the simplest of materials, but there is no mistaking the complexity of intention and the mysterious intensity of the results. Boston Secession, under conductor Jane Ring Frank, start in perfectly hushed tones and avoid big effects until the end. Perhaps they are a little too seduced by simple beauty of tone. A degree of edge to the performance would not come amiss, but this is to quibble, given the choir’s fine control. Heinrich Christensen is the perfect accompanist, underpinning the choir discreetly until the end when Pärt allows the organ to appear out from under the choir and impress us with a final cadenza.
Ruth Lomon’s Transport is an altogether more dramatic. Transport is a movement from her oratorio Testimony of Witness. It uses a series of texts extracted from personal memoirs about being transported during the holocaust. This is a difficult subject, but Lomon and her collaborator Susan Fromberg Schaeffer have chosen the texts well. When it comes to the music, I am a little less convinced. Lomon sets the work for choir and chamber orchestra; she seems to veer between a need to reflect the difficulty of her subject and a desire to create accessible music. Her response is interesting and musical without ever tugging the heart-strings or horrifying us. Perhaps it would have been easier if the text had not been so close to the subject; if the piece had included a little distance. Boston Secession and their orchestra give Lomon’s work a strong performance; other listeners might find the work more moving than did this critic.
The final contemporary work on the disc is an extract from William Duckworth’s Southern Harmony. Boston Secession perform seven movements from the twenty movements in Duckworth’s complete work. Duckworth took tunes from the 1835 publication The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion which compiled the traditional shape-note songs and fuguing tunes used by the semi-literate Baptists and Methodists of the rural South. The original songs are remarkable, sounding raw and unfinished to modern ears. In fact Boston Secession perform three of the original tunes at the end of the disc. These sound remarkably modern in their uncompromisingly bare harmonies. In fact Duckworth’s re-workings have the effect of making these pieces sound rather more polite. But Duckworth is endlessly inventive and choirs would do well to investigate his Southern Harmony.
The CD booklet includes the article by Robert Fink and all the texts of the pieces.
This is an interesting disc, showcasing a fine choir. Their conductor gets strong performances of each of the pieces on the disc. I am note quite sure that the recital quite adds up to a concrete whole; for me the mix of pieces does not quite gel. I felt that there were two competing discs in here, a minimal/post-minimal one and another one entirely. But if the mix of works appeals then look no further.
Robert Hugill


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

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.