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Ēriks EENVALDS (b.1977) Northern Lights and other choral works
Details at end of review
Sally Pryce (harp)
Trinity College Choir Cambridge/Stephen Layton
rec. Trinity College Chapel; Ely Cathedral, 2013/14. DDD
Texts and translations included Reviewed
as CD and as 24-bit download with pdf booklet HYPERION CDA68083 [67:48]
As John Quinn has already reviewed
this recording in detail, and I have listened to it in both CD and download
format, I would normally have included a brief note in Download News,
but it’s more important than that. It’s certainly not that I disagree
with my colleague: I very rarely do except in the most insignificant
of details, but it’s been some time since his review appeared and a
reminder may be timely.
Ever since Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs took us by storm
more than 20 years ago the record companies have brought us a steady
stream of tuneful music from Eastern European composers who are motivated
by a strong faith. Notable among recent releases has been the Gimell
collection of Arvo Pärt’s music which JQ and I made Recording of the
Month (Tintinnabuli – review).
Now I’m pleased to welcome Latvian composer EriksEšenvalds’
second complete album. The first was also recorded by Stephen Layton
for Hyperion, with Polyphony (Passion and Resurrection, CDA67796
Of the music included here, only his Merton College Service has
been recorded before, by the college who commissioned it, on The
Merton Collection (Delphian DCD34134 –
review and review).
All the works on this new album arise from commissions from the United
States, England and northern Europe.
There’s an attractive mix of what the publicity material calls, with
justification, ‘ethereal expressions of uniquely arctic phenomena’.
Listen for wine glasses turned – and tuned – to wonderfully simple but
devastating effect within the choral texture in Stars, American
ballads and several works in the ‘Anglican tradition’, composed during
the composer’s recent residency at Trinity College, Cambridge, whose
choir feature in the recording.
There’s not much in the way of competition: Stars is included
on an album by Voces8 (Lux: Decca 4788053) and O Emmanuel
on Advent at Merton (Delphian DCD34122 – review
). We don’t seem to have reviewed Lux, which I streamed from
but that’s an attractive collection of mainly sweet-toothed confections
from contemporary composers – some of the others are Lauridsen and Mealor
– and their predecessors such as Allegri, the inevitable Miserere,
Tallis and Taverner. Stars is an attractive piece and it’s well
performed on both recordings, but I prefer it in the all-Ešenvalds context
on track 15 of the Hyperion, where it’s in the company of a more varied
programme than on Lux.
I’m happy to play the Hyperion right through but hearing Lux
in one go is a bit too much like Danish pastry for breakfast, lunch
and dinner. Though there’s much on the Hyperion recording that is equally
ethereal – Northern Lights, for example (track 5), which gives
its name to the whole collection – there’s plenty of stronger stuff,
too, such as The New Moon (track 2).
As for the performances, I doubt that Voces8 could equal the Trinity
College Choir in some of the items on the Hyperion album. The Common
Prayer text of Te Deum (tr.4) for example will have been sung
within the college chapel innumerable times and in countless settings
since Merbecke set it in 1549 for Cranmer’s first English prayer book
and the Anglican chant setting of Psalm 67 (tr.3) also fits into their
cycle of services where it’s prescribed for Evensong on the 12th
day. If there is one item on this album that didn’t quite gel for me,
it’s this rather workaday psalm setting.
In the two canticles from the Merton Service the rivals are the choir
for whom the music was composed. I’m not going to get into Oxford-Cambridge
disputes here, though I’m currently hoping for a dark-blue outcome from
the Boat Race. Both John Quinn and I had the highest praise for The
Merton Collection (see above) and I’m not about to unsay what I
said then. You need both.
With excellent recording and splendid notes, I can only welcome this
with enthusiasm. I’ve even stolen JQ's words for the brief summary
which appears with the daily and monthly listing.
O salutaris hostia [3:30]
The new moon [4:14]
Psalm 67 [5:28]
Trinity Te Deum * [6:41]
Northern Lights [5:56]
The heavens’ flock [3:28]
The earthly rose ** [3:25]
Merton College Service: Magnificat [3:39] Nunc dimittis [2:45]
Rivers of light [5:35] Ubi caritas [2:46]
Amazing grace [4:47] O Emmanuel [2:44]
Who can sail without the wind? ** [3:05]
Only in sleep [5:17]
Trinity Brass */**
Sally Pryce (harp) *