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Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)
From the Ends of the Earth
Cantate Domino, Op. 385 (1984) [7:26]
Immortality, Op. 134 (undated) [2:43]
Four Motets, Op. 87 (1951)
No. 2 Unto Thee, O God [1:36]
Triptych: Ave Maria, Op. 100, No. 1a (1952) [3:30]
A Simple Mass, Op. 282 (1975) [25:48]
From the Ends of the Earth, Op. 187 (1951, rev. 1960) [4:49]
Three Motets, Op. 259 (1972)
No. 1 Peace Be Multiplied [2:58]
No. 2 God Be Merciful Unto Us [5:27]
No. 3 Wisdom [2:23]
Hear My Prayer, O Lord, Op. 149 (1936/1959) [3:47]
I Will Rejoice in the Lord, Op. 42 (undated) [6:32]
Four Motets, Op. 87
No. 1 Why Hast Thou Cast Us Off [2:57]
The God of Glory Thundereth, Op. 140 (1935, rev 1960) [4:41]
O Lord God of Hosts, Op. 27 (undated) [4:51]
David Chalmers, James E. Jordan, Jr. (organ)
Lydia Ingwersen, Stephen Velie (oboe), Marianne Wierzbinski, Daniel Pfeiffer (French horn) & Seana Shannon (harp) 
Glorię Dei Cantores/Elizabeth C. Patterson
rec. 2011, Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, USA
Reviewed as a stereo DSD64 download from NativeDSD
Pdf booklet includes sung texts in English
GLORIĘ DEI CANTORES GDCD052 SACD [75:28]

It’s been a while since I last reviewed any music by the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, so when I came across this release I decided to put that right. These choral pieces are all new to me, as are the 40-voice Glorię Dei Cantores and their conductor Elizabeth C. Patterson. That said, my colleagues were impressed with the group’s other albums – see links at the end of this review – which certainly whetted my appetite for this one. Then again, the standard of choral singing in the US is so very high these days; witness Charles Bruffy’s Phoenix and Kansas singers in Grechaninov and Rachmaninov, and Craig Hella Johnson’s Conspirare in The Sacred Spirit of Russia.

This album gets off to a splendid start, with the incisive, spirit-lifting Cantate Domino. The organ accompaniment is warm, weighty and, in keeping with the up-tempo nature of the piece, surprisingly nimble. The writing, like the singing, is direct and unfussy, which is the composer’s default position. That’s a strength, not a failing, as the ensuing Immortality, with Kathy Schuman’s ethereal solo and the choir’s ringing ‘Hallelujahs’, so amply demonstrates. As for Unto Thee, O God, the second of the Four Motets, it’s distilled delight. What a lovely, rich tone this choir has, the Ave Maria haloed by another Schuman solo, plus harp, oboes and French horns.

This is singing and playing from the heart, and Steve Colby’s expansive, naturally balanced recording captures it all to perfection. The quietly pealing organ prelude at the start of A Simple Mass picks up some noise from the instrument, but such is the sense of deep communion it matters not a jot. Goodness, this is the composer as I’ve never heard him before, and I suspect others will be just as captivated – as moved – as I was by the artless, open-hearted nature of the piece. The Credo is deeply felt, and the long-breathed ‘Amens’ are superbly controlled and blended. Remarkably, the Mass never stoops to the formulaic or anodyne, and that, perhaps, is the nicest surprise of all.

I daresay the grateful acoustic of the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts – the choir’s home turf – has a significant part to play in the success of this album; it’s not a cavernous space with a muddying echo, so detail and nuance are never lost. More important, there’s an intimacy here that’s entirely right for music that speaks from soul to soul. As for the well-rounded organ – the Stygian pedals thrilling in the title piece, From the Ends of the Earth – it’s a perfectly scaled presence throughout. And I can’t fault the conductor, who shows impeccable judgment and unfailing musicality from start to finish.

There must be some caveats, surely? No, none, the second half of this programme as clear and communicative as the first. The Three Motets, with alto Phoenix Marcela Catlin a warmly expressive soloist, are something of a palate cleanser, adding to the sense that this is a carefully planned and varied selection designed to show composer and performers at their best. After that, Hear My Prayer, O Lord and I Will Rejoice in the Lord have a deep-chested Eastern Orthodox flavour that makes for a darkly stirring contrast. As for The God of Glory Thundereth and O Lord God of Hosts, they’re as direct and disarming as anything that’s gone before.

Really, this is music of unexpected range and quality, not at all what one might expect from the composer of that lid- and roof-lifting spectacular, the Mount St Helens Symphony. In short, From the Ends of the Earth is one of the finest choral recordings I’ve heard since the Tyberg Masses, made with the South Dakota Chorale (Pentatone). That album, also available from NativeDSD, was one of my top picks for 2016, which tells you something about the musical and technical prowess on show here.

Be sore amazed; I certainly was.

Dan Morgan
Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil
Rare Choral Works
The Coming of Christ
Gregorian Requiem
Rheinberger: Motets, Masses and Hymns
San Marco 1527-1740
Renaissance Motets



 




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