Some of the most sublime choral music you’ll ever experience was composed only recently. Here’s a quick journey through time from today’s soothing and stimulating choral music to some of the all-time classics from times gone by.
Eric Whitacre’s dedication to the beauty of sound, paired with exquisite texts, results in a poetic combination that creates a unique sonic experience. These works are existential choral moments, beautifully crafted, and harmonised to express a compressed moment in time. Such sublime sonorities transcend descriptions such as ‘warm’, ‘glistening’ or ‘shimmering’, although these features of his choral works do suggest affinities with the sound worlds of Arvo Pärt or John Tavener, for instance. However, Whitacre’s fluid lines and blossoming harmonies give his music its own highly personal and irresistible magic.
Eric Whitacre’s wife, soprano Hila Plitmann sings on the award-winning and critically acclaimed CORIGLIANO Mr Tambourine Man, 3 Hallucinations (Plitmann, Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta) 8.559331 and on Awakenings – Chamber Music with Guitar – KERNIS, LIDERMAN, MACKEY (D. Tanenbaum, Kernis, Cuarteto Latinoamericano) 8.559650, currently available as a digital album and to be released on CD in August 2010.
The Elora Festival Singers also perform on many other Naxos albums, including:
‘Singing as honest and beautiful as this is never surplus to requirements ‘ – Gramophone
‘You must sit with this music, or you won’t get it. Let it inside you, or it will pass beyond you… Edison and his group know how to let this music breathe. Edison elicits from the singers and from the silken string orchestra in the Berlin Mass pinpoint pitch and glowing timbre. The rhythms float, rather than feeling meter-bound.’ – The Arizona Republic
Julian Wachner’s music has been described as ‘bold and atmospheric’ (The New York Times), ‘jazzy, energetic, and ingenious’ (Boston Globe), and ‘highly enjoyable, touching, clever, and inspiring’ (Deseret News). As the composer has written: ‘I have found equal inspiration from strict form or unbridled chaos; tonality, modality or post-tonality; and lyricism, pointillism or minimalism—I find it crucial to have as sweeping a palette of creative possibilities at my disposal as possible…The challenge therefore, is to ride this wave of self-proclaimed eclecticism with sincerity, individuality and spontaneity, writing music that speaks to the human condition.’
Morten Lauridsen is America’s preeminent composer of choral music. Characterized by long, arching and highly expressive lines, his works are enjoyed by performers and audiences worldwide. O nata lux, perhaps Lauridsen’s most popular work, is a serene evocation of heavenly light, while the searingly intense and technically demanding Madrigali inhabit a more feverish and earthy realm. The refined Les Chansons des Roses employ a design reminiscent of the formal gardens, filled with roses, found in the grounds of the great French châteaux. The unforgettable final movement is the now-famous Dirait-on. The Mid-Winter Songs for chorus and piano are a stunning example of compositional virtuosity. O magnum mysterium, for a cappella chorus, is a setting of a Christmas text that has inspired composers from Victoria to Poulenc.
‘If I were Morten Lauridsen and my work was in the artistic care of a choir like the Elora Festival Singers I would feel that my creative vision was in exceptionally good hands. Although O nata lux (a movement from the larger work Lux aeterna) and O magnum mysterium have been recorded numerous times, they never have been done better—or more movingly—than here.’ – 10/10 Classics Today
A choirboy in his youth, Healey Willan had a life-long passion for the human voice. Not counting his output for organ, chamber music and orchestral works, the bulk of his almost 800 compositions involved voice in one form or another. Born in England, Willan moved to Canada in 1913, where he dominated the field of sacred music. This anthology includes Willan’s most popular choral work, Rise up my love, a wonderful illustration of the famous words ‘a true church music is beautifully fit and fittingly beautiful’.
‘Willan’s writing for vocal forces is both natural and skillful, and his music is deeply felt… These are loving and skillful performances.’ – Fanfare
‘All in all a disc which, in both musical content and performance, makes a thoroughly welcome addition to the catalogue.’ – Gramophone
10/10 – Classics Today
WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING
Admired for the sheer beauty of his meditative and mystical music, John Tavener writes of his Ex Maria Virgine, which was dedicated to HRH the Prince of Wales and HRH the Duchess of Cornwall in joyful celebration of their marriage: “I have set both familiar and less well known texts, and linked them with an expanding and contracting phrase ‘Ex Maria Virgine’. This refers to Mary the Mother of God—‘The Eternal Feminine’—and should be sung with great radiance and femininity.” The other, mainly unaccompanied, works reveal Tavener’s response to various poetic texts that also praise the Virgin Mary.
‘Two of the selections are first recordings: Ex Maria virgine, the major work at 38 minutes, and Marienhymne. The other works are not widely available…The composer has a devoted following, so these accomplished performances will delight them.’ – Fanfare
‘Clare College Choir is outstanding throughout with a remarkable security of attack and precise intonation in chord sequences that are sometimes repetitive but never obvious. The acoustic in Norwich Cathedral is a real asset and so is this vivid recording. Altogether an exhilarating release.’ – Gramophone
Bringing together the voices of adults and children, Rutter’s Mass of the Children is scored for mixed choir, soprano and baritone soloists, orchestra, and the irresistible charm of a children’s choir. Rutter’s skilful writing for these forces together with his sensitive interweaving of both the Latin Mass texts and Thomas Ken’s renowned morning and evening hymns for Winchester College, gives the whole work the framework of a complete day, from waking to sleeping. This has resulted in one of his finest and most moving works to date.
‘Everything is brilliantly performed and caught in plush, colorful sound.’ – American Record Guide
‘There’s always room in my CD collection for Rutter and this disc is a welcome addition’ – MUSO
Ralph Vaughan Williams’s sublime Mass in G minor reveals the composer’s absorbing interest in using the modal harmonic language and contrapuntal textures of the English late Renaissance to achieve a huge emotional and dynamic range. Undoubtedly the most technically demanding work on this disc is A Vision of Aeroplanes, a virtuosic motet for mixed chorus and organ. Several neglected works also feature here, including The Voice out of the Whirlwind, an anthem for mixed chorus and orchestra or organ, and Valiant-for-truth, one of several works based on Bunyan’s Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress.
‘The singing and playing are of a high order’ – Choir & Organ
‘This performance, lovingly moulded and well balanced in the play of solo voices and full choir, is in the best tradition.’ – Gramophone
‘the sweeping energy and rich detail of Tim Brown’s interpretation draw out the best from his young singers, in matters musical and mystical.’ – Classic FM
‘The music proves striking…in this glowingly committed performance by the Oxford chamber choir Commotio.’ – BBC Music Magazine
‘This immediately effective music certainly gets right away from outworn Howells-derived conventions. Commotio provide excellent, fully committed performances.’ – Choir & Organ
‘James Whitbourn’s Luminosity expands the experience of classical music beyond the edges of the traditional map of classical style. English composer James Whitbourn, born in 1963, is part of a new generation of musicians who are no longer bound to the notion that contemporary music needs to challenge the listener with difficulty. His new CD is called Luminosity, and it includes the choral piece A Prayer of Desmond Tutu. Tutu himself speaks on the recording.’ – All Things Considered
American choral music has many faces, and while aware of tradition often looks resolutely towards the future. Vincent Persichetti’s Mass envelopes an original cantus firmus in a shimmering silken garment of ever-shifting harmonies, while Lukas Foss provides a lyre-like accompaniment for his lean, sometimes athletic, settings of three Psalms. Irving Fine sets poems by Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson (The Hour-Glass), William Schuman draws on texts by Walt Whitman for his Carols of Death, while William Bolcom uses African American poems as the basis for a wide-ranging song cycle, The Mask.
The emotional power of James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross moved the composer to write that “it is inspiring when one witnesses people weep real tears on Good Friday”. Composed for The Hilliard Ensemble, …here in hiding… is MacMillan’s most ambitious vocal work exploring medieval themes, both musically and poetically. His mesmerizing Christus vincit and controversial Nemo te condemnavit round off this début disc by The Dmitri Ensemble, a talented young group conducted by BBC Performing Arts Bursary recipient, Graham Ross.
‘An exceptional performance of MacMillan’s masterpiece’ – Editor’s Choice Gramophone
‘The piece, written in 1994, is one of his very best; the beautifully sculpted choral lines play to the future while hearkening to the past in its mimicking of the great composers of ancient times whose settings graced the high cathedrals of Europe. ‘ – 5 STARS Audiophile Audition
Although Vaughan Williams described himself as ‘a cheerful agnostic’, he was not only steeped in the traditions of the Anglican Church, but sensitive to the mystical significance ‘of what lies beyond sense and knowledge’. Written in 1936, his cantata Dona nobis pacem sets powerful Biblical texts alongside those by Walt Whitman and John Bright and is both a warning that mankind was sliding disastrously towards another war and a plea for a world without strife. The oratorio Sancta Civitas, one of his most original choral works, strikingly deploys vocal and orchestral forces to depict the battle between good and evil from the Book of Revelation.
‘These performances under David Hill are fine, responsive to the beauty and the terror…[they] impress as more impassioned than Hickox’s and the recorded sound has a keener range and depth of perspective.’ – Gramophone
Carl Rütti’s choral music is ‘sensuous and exuberant by turns, combining dazzling rhythms and soaring melodies with distinctively lush harmonies’ (Choir & Organ magazine). Of his Requiem, immense in scale yet often intimate in tone, the composer writes that ‘no words are strong enough to express the feelings of the bereaved, nor sufficient to explain what will await us after death. Music may be the most appropriate language’. Scored for soprano, baritone, double choir, strings, harp and organ, Rütti’s Requiem ultimately affirms life’s precious fragility.
‘The Bach Choir has clearly taken this Requiem to its collective heart…and performs it with involving fervency under the experienced direction of the excellent David Hill.’ – BBC Music Magazine
‘While gentleness is far from being the end of the story, however, as the Elgar-meets-John Adams style of the opening of the Kyrie, for example, or the Nymanesque moments of the “In Paradisum” demonstrate, the tone is definitely predominantly elegiac and consoling. The Bach Choir under David Hill respond to this with warmth and passion, and soloists Olivia Robinson and Edward Price are outstanding’ – Gramophone
Haydn’s two great vocal masterpieces The Creation (1796–8) and The Seasons (1799–1801) have secured his place in the history of the oratorio. Here they are presented together with one of music history’s better-kept secrets: Haydn’s fi rst oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia.
‘It would be difficult to overstate the importance or impressiveness of this monumental recording, which constitutes the first-ever collection of the complete Haydn masses performed on period instruments… The performances perfectly balance classical elegance, devotional intensity and rich, full-bodied tone, and should find a warm welcome in any classical collection. Absolutely wonderful.’ – Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist
Though he lived through some of the most tumultuous times in English history, from the reigns of Henry VII to Elizabeth I, Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585) composed music for both the Catholic and Anglican churches that resounds the world over to this day. Whether singing the monumental splendour of his famous 40-part motet Spem in alium or the intimate prayer I call and cry to thee, O Lord, the internationally renowned Oxford Camerata conducted by Jeremy Summerly are perfectly attuned to Tallis’s timeless genius.
‘Oxford Camerata is admirable: well blended and disciplined, with the clarity to delineate the intricate lines of 16th-century polyphony …The present recording can be recommended to listeners who want to make a first acquaintance with the works of Tallis’ – American Record Guide
Until recently the rôle of women as composers and performers of both sacred and secular music during the Middle Ages has been seriously underestimated. This disc, sung by the all-female group Musica Ficta, reveals how well suited to women’s voices are music from Notre-Dame in Paris and the songs of many trouvères (the northern counterparts of the troubadours of Languedoc). The latter songs, for instance, often feature female protagonists and present different perspectives on love and life to those by their male counterparts.
The sound of unaccompanied chant moves and inspires those seeking the sublime. In our increasingly busy and secularized world, people return to chant, regardless of their religious beliefs, for the peace and calm that this eternal music offers.
Of course, this is merely a short selection! the For more great choral music, please browse through the Sacred Choral Music and Secular Choral Music catalogues on naxos.com. These include Naxos and distributed label albums.