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I Want To Live - Contemporary works for women's choir
David LANG (b.1957)
I live in pain (2110) [4.20]
I lie (2001) [4.42]
this condition (2005) [4.49]
evening morning day (2007) [7.31]
I want to live (2005) [4.43]
Peter FOWLER (b.1978)
Potter’s Clay
(2007) [4.00]
Echoes (2010) [4.39]
William BROOKS (b.1942)
Six medieval Lyrics (2006/10) [27.55]
The Crossing/Donald Nally
rec. 29 June - 2 July 2011, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA.
INNOVA 856 [69.25]

Four composers represented here and all are quite different. David Lang is American - Los Angeles-born to be precise, whereas William Brooks is from New York; significant differences. Peter Fowler comes from Wisconsin in the rural northwest of America. Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, the only name I was a little more familiar with, comes from Denmark.
Neatly, the CD is book-ended by two works of equal length. They’re by Lang: I live in pain, a setting of a poem of desire by the Beatriz de Dia, a twelfth century trobairitz and I want to live where you live, a section from a collaborative piece with words by Deborah Artman. Lang has a captivating language and style. It’s a sort of minimalism in so far as he employs repetition and overlaps slowly-evolving melodies. In both cases the contrapuntal build-up is impressive but for me neither work seems to know how to end. It’s as if the composer has looked at his watch and decided that he has reached the end of his permitted time-frame.
The longest of his pieces is evening morning day (note all lower case and no commas) and sets a text which he compiled from Genesis. This is his attempt to create a creation piece “common to all cultures” and stripping away “descriptions, adjective, connectors and motivators”, just leaving nouns. In other words GOD is successfully removed from the process. At seven and a half minutes it is almost too long for its material and apart from the last half minute lacks much to captivate at least this listener.
‘Almost No Memory’ by the American writer, Lydia Davis is set in this condition. Various facets of life’s small pleasures are highlighted in a wordy text full of lovely images “in this condition: stirred not only by men but also by women, fat and thin, naked and clothed … by animals such as horses and dogs … by fruits such as melons, grapefruits and kiwis.” The setting oscillates between unison voices and two-part. It climaxes in three weaving parts until a unison ending. Intriguing.
For me the highlight of Lang’s pieces is a setting of a text in Yiddish, I lie: a girl in bed awaiting the arrival of her lover whom eventually she runs out to meet. There is a repeated rising pattern throughout but other ideas - word-painting in fact - invade and add interest. Nocturnal yearning is beautifully evoked.
Peter Fowler’s Potter’s Clay takes a text from ‘Tibetan Tales for Little Buddhas’ by Naomi Rose. It includes the decisive words “What’s the future, no one knows”. The piece is set as a repeated mantra on differing pitches. It creates a beautifully hypnotic yet quite passionate effect. Similar comments apply to Echoes, another mantra type piece with a text from the same source. Interestingly its premiere by The Crossing in 2010 inspired the present recording. The line “echoes of chanting tune” sums up the flavour and thought behind this short piece.
William Brooks’ Six Medieval Lyrics is a substantial work, settings of not so well known but beautifully yearning Latin texts. I should add at this point that all of the texts are given in the nicely set out booklet and well translated where appropriate. Each piece also has a succinct note by the composer about its genesis. This is a virtuoso choral work and quite different stylistically and harmonically from anything else on the CD. It is complex in thought and musical material in almost all of its movements. There are some fascinating textures. The fourth part, Langueo, is a wailing, angry piece. Aprili tempore is an aching love-song that has a passionate soprano solo above the lower at times almost modal harmonies. The final section Vale, dulcis amice is a very moving song of farewell: “without you, far from here I go full of care for I cannot easily return.” The texts were taken from Peter Dronke’s translations of European Love Lyrics. They were originally for the Trio Medieval and enlarged for this marvellous group of singers. For me, this is the pick of the compositions in this programme.
Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’sStatements consists of eight sections. The first six are entitled ‘Epic Text’ in which each word has a specific musical motif - ‘morning’, ‘a face’, ‘ a coast’, ‘jump’, ‘a haze’ and ‘eye’. In each very brief movement these words are re-ordered; so also is the music. The last two tracks are entitled ‘Statements’: ‘it is enough … I make statements and that is all’. This almost pointillist poem is by Hans-Jorgen Nielson. It enabled the composer to exploit an aphoristic style which reflects his ideas developed into the movement that has been termed the ‘New Simplicity’.
The voices of The Crossing under their clearly charismatic conductor Donald Nally are magical, pure, flexible, perfectly tuned and highly sensitive to the composer’s wishes. I can think of nothing more to say except that if my own music was in their repertoire I would know and be thrilled by what they might achieve. You will not fault their performances even if you might have misgivings about some of the pieces they record.
Gary Higginson