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Voices of Our Time Cyril DEACONOFF Our Time for voices and electronics (2018) [5:30]
String Quartet (2008) [13:10] Kontakion for Pascha (Easter) for chorus and organ (2015) [4:35] Canticles of Love, Despair and Hope: No Ladder Needs the Bird (2006) [2:40] Karlheinz STOCKHAUSEN (1928-2007) Stimmung (1968) [45:36]
Voices of Silicon Valley
Crista Berryessa and Jim Pintner (soloists - Our Time)
Jane Crockford (soprano solo), Geoff Schuller (percussion - Kontakion for Pascha)
San Francisco Conservatory String Quartet
Indiana University chorus and orchestra
Reviewed via streaming link ORPHEUS CLASSICAL OR2020-1579 [70:56]
Multifaceted musician Cyril Deaconoff is a composer of concert, film, video game and media music, conductor, and organist. He is the current Artistic Director of Voices of Silicon Valley, and having studied with John Poole, former director of the BBC Singers, and Paul Hillier who released a previous recording of Stimmung with Theatre of Voices, his pedigree in this field is based on firm foundations.
The programme begins with an avalanche, the opening of Cyril Deaconoff’s Our Time exploding with what sounds like a crash of broken glass and some cinematic electronic moods. With no texts it’s hard to know what is going on here, but most of the rest of the piece is rhythmic a-capella singing capped by a reprise of the opening. The String Quartet is divided into two sections: Were You There and Finale. This is an expressive and at times impassioned work on the hefty New Testament subject of the Crucifixion that works within fairly standard technical conventions to create a powerful atmosphere - emotional in the first section, and more dramatic in the second with grotesque syncopated dance sections, but with clearly related material for a feel of satisfying unity and with an affirmative conclusion. A kontakion is a kind of hymn that derives from Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgical traditions. Kontakion for Pascha sets the voices against a restrained but illustrative organ part over which bird-like ornaments penetrate an opening pedal tone. Drum beats emphasise and accompany rhythmic vocal writing, but the piece is a bit too short to make much of a coherent impression. Canticles of Love, Despair and Hope: No Ladder Needs the Bird uses poetry by Emily Dickinson and has a mildly Eastern feel in its tonality and parallel intervals but, as a movement extracted from a larger cantata, has a truncated feel in isolation.
Stimmung is the main feature here, and it is given a good performance here by Voices of Silicon Valley. This piece is very much a product of its time, with Stockhausen said to have been inspired by the chanting of Tibetan Buddhist monks. A constant B-flat drone is established, and the six voices present weave around a single chord working on vocal overtone effects and rhythmic repetitions to create a meditative atmosphere, though quite a lively one. At certain points singers call out “magic names” that come from different religious traditions from around the globe; all part of Stockhausen’s intention to embrace all of humanity in a search for perfect harmony. Of the recordings I have heard performers tend not to rely too much on resonant acoustics for atmosphere, though Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices recording on Harmonia Mundi does have a roomier space than that which houses the Voices of Silicon Valley. At around 45 minutes this is quite a compact performance, with many alternatives coming in at 70 minutes or more. It is labelled as ‘Paris Version Abridged’, and if you look up the performers and this work on YouTube you can find an explanation of the work and a video of the performance recorded here, complete with projections. Being live there is an occasional bump, cough and some quite noisy page turning, but this is only mildly disturbing as the work progresses and you become increasingly involved.
With its live atmosphere and extraneous noises this is a version of Stimmung that won’t replace many studio recordings, but it is a good vocal performance and will be worth hearing for fans of the work. Of Cyrill Deaconoff’s pieces the String Quartet is in my opinion the most convincing, but the other snippets certainly make you want to hear more and in greater clarity.
11 November 2018, San Francisco Conservatory of Music (Our Time, Stimmung), 25 May 2008, St. John’s Presbyterian Church, San Francisco (String Quartet), 31 May 2015, First Presbyterian Church, Oakland, (Kontakion) and 1 October 2006, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Bloomington, USA (Canticles)