Gregory W. BROWN (b.1975) Moonstrung Air
Five Women Bathing in Moonlight [5:05] (1)
Vidi Aquam [15:58] (1)
Spring [4:51] (2)
Missa Charles Darwin [22:28] (3)
Entrai, Pastores, Entrai [5:23] (1)
Three American Folk Hymns [11:18] (3)
The Crossing/Donald Nally (1)
The Spring Ensemble/Eric Dudley (2)
New York Polyphony (3)
rec. 2014, Saint Peter’s Church in the Great Valley in Malvern PA (1); 2013, American Academy of Arts & Letters in New York NY (2, 3) NAVONA RECORDS NV5989 [64:58]
Missa Charles Darwin [22:28]
New York Polyphony
rec. 2013, American Academy of Arts & Letters in New York NY NAVONA RECORDS NV6126 [22:28]
Gregory W. Brown is a Western Massachusett’s-based composer, who studied at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music (University of Georgia), Westminster Choir College and Amherst College, where he had tuition from the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lewis Spratlan. His brother is the thriller writer Daniel Gerhard Brown, author of Angels & Demons (2000) and The Da Vinci Code (2003).
Brown’s music is tonally based and easily accessible. Although he has an instinctive grasp of the workings and range of the voice, there are times when, I am sure, his music is challenging for the singers. The recording features three choral ensembles: The Crossing, under its director Donald Nally, Spring Ensemble, directed by Eric Dudley and New York Polyphony (Geoffrey Williams (countertenor), Steven Caldicott Wilson (tenor), Christopher Dylan Herbert (baritone) and Craig Phillips (bass)). Brown composed his “Missa Charles Darwin” specifically for this last group.
I love the dream-like atmosphere that Brown conjures in the Five Women Bathing in Moonlight, enhanced by his rarefied, diaphanous scoring. Vidi Aquam draws on 16th century texts and utilizes a piano. Spring, a particularly attractive piece, explores some adventurous harmonies. Entrai, Pastores, Entrai is a traditional Portuguese Christmas carol, and The Three American Folk Hymns are given added potency with their sparse harmonies.
The centrepiece of this intriguing disc is the “Missa Charles Darwin”, which was composed in 2010-11. Scored for four unaccompanied male voices, its stark harmonies are cast in the style of Renaissance polyphony. Whilst retaining the structure of the Roman Catholic mass, Brown has substituted texts culled from the writings of Charles Darwin, particularly On the Origin of Species. The composer holds Darwin in high esteem, and wanted to express his admiration for him in musical form. Of interest is that Daniel Gerhard Brown’s new novel Origin (2017) was initially inspired by his brother’s Missa Charles Darwin and, as far as I can gather, the work is referred to in the book.
Navona Records have also released "Missa Charles Darwin" as a box set. Profits from the sale of this set will go to charity in support of musical education.
All three choral ensembles are on fine form, offering clear and incisive performances. Dynamics are sensitively varied and intonation is pristine. The sound quality is pleasing and acoustics sympathetic, with the music shown to good advantage. Texts for the works are provided.
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