It is Time
David SHAPIRO (b.1969)
It is time [6:32]
The Years from You to Me [7:12]
Kile SMITH (b.1956)
Where flames a word [11:45]
Paul FOWLER (b.1978)
Breath [15:21]
Frank HAVRØY (b.1969)
Psalm [5:52]
Erhard KARKOSCHKA (1923-2009)
Variationen mit Celan-Gedichien III [12:48]
Kirsten BROBERG (b.1979)
Breathturn [5:22]
The Crossing/Donald Nally
rec. no details given
texts and some scores available on CD as multimedia content
NAVONA NV5845 [64:53]

The container notes for this disc give the names of the composers in dark red and of the works in a light brown, both virtually unreadable on a dark brown background. The names of the choir, including those who did not sing on this recording, together with those who supported it in various ways, are given more legibly, but there is no information about the composers or the works. It is only when you find the words “Place this product in your computer to access exclusive interactive multimedia content” in very small print and at right angles to the main information that you start to work out what you need to do to obtain this essential information. No doubt all of this will have been obvious to listeners more technically literate than I am, but I do regret unnecessary barriers to attracting potential purchasers of a disc of music by composers performed by a choir, neither of whom are widely known. This is a great pity as there is much to enjoy here, not least the choir’s fearless and very committed approach to music of considerable technical difficulty. That this is the case is apparent from another very welcome feature - the ability to view the scores of several of the pieces. It would be good to see this as a regular feature in recordings of new music in particular, although the ability to enlarge them to a more readable size would be welcome.

The Crossing is a professional choir with twenty-two singers deployed on this disc. It was founded in Philadelphia in 2005 by their conductor, Donald Nally. They specialise in modern music and have an admirable list of first performances and first American performances, and, even better, of commissions. Most of the works on this disc are part of “The Celan Project” and set texts by the Romanian poet Paul Celan (1920-1970). The odd one out is Paul Fowler’s “Breath” which sets texts by Philip Levine, an American poet born in 1928, for the choir’s later “Levine Project”). All of the composers represented here are American apart from Frank Havrøy, a Norwegian singer who is a member of Nordic Voices, and Erhard Karkoschka from the Czech Republic.

I admired the tremendous technique and tone of the choir throughout the disc, as well as their very considerable enterprise in commissioning or choosing these works, but I regret that I found myself too often finding little of interest in the music. Most is slow, lacking in variety of texture or gesture, or any obvious logic or sense of purpose. It is a good thing that the texts are available as they are not audible – more an inherent part of the settings than the choir’s fault, I think. Despite the often beautiful sounds produced, I found that of the American works only that by Kirsten Broberg gripped me, although David Shapiro’s “It is time” did reach an impressive climax. The works by Frank Havrøy and Erhard Karkoschka were for me the highlights of the disc, with more varied textures and a real shape but even they are not pieces I expect to return to often.

Nonetheless this remains most certainly a demonstration of some very impressive and committed singing. The Crossing are a choir who deserve to be heard, but I hope that next time I do so it will be in music that does more to reward their efforts.

John Sheppard

Most certainly a demonstration of some very impressive and committed singing.