|About this Recording
8.572511 - Choral Concert: Vox Humana - WHITACRE, E. / PAULUS, S. / CHILDS, D.N. / PART, A. / TAVENER, J. / BETINIS, A. / LAURIDSEN, M. (Into the Night)
INTO THE NIGHT
Whitacre’s dramatic setting of twentieth-century Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s poem With a Lily in Your Hand (Con un lirio en la mano te dejo, translated by Jerome Rothenberg) is somewhat uncharacteristic of the composer’s later compositional style. Often known for slower-tempo works that employ lush, atmospheric, and often-complex tonalities, this early composition of Whitacre’s, while still very affecting, has a more agile, playful, lyrical and more melodic quality to it than other works in his oeuvre. The opening line immediately grabs the listener’s attention before promptly shifting to an accompaniment figure that employs an array of alternating or mixed meters and syncopated Spanish rhythms. Although the poem (most likely written in 1921) is colored by Lorca’s own struggle with his homosexuality—there is abundant imagery of longing, ecstasy, and intimacy, all the while tinged with a sense of melancholy—the quick tempo, driving rhythms and intense dynamic shifts give the work a sense of rapture rather than sorrow; of elation and not sadness. García Lorca’s poem invokes a luminescent lover in the night as a principal protagonist. The climactic ending of the opening Spanish rhythmic motif is preceded by an increase of intensity in a setting of the highly descriptive text, at which point the two lovers reunite in ecstatic harmony.
Set in an uncomplicated ‘simple-triple’ meter, and predominantly sitting very comfortably in a D major tonality throughout, Stephen Paulus’s The Day Is Done is a bewitching arrangement of Longfellow’s popular poem. Paulus captures the elegant imagery of the poem through long, lyrical melodies that have a yearning quality to them. The poem has a sad undertone to it; a sense of longing for such simple pleasures of poetry being read, and of music filling the night, which contrasts the harsh realities that day brings. Effective text-painting is characteristic of this work, where, for example, the melody effortlessly, steadily and evenly descends on “As a feather is wafted downward”, and again at “As showers from the clouds of summer”. The true beauty of this work is found in its simplicity. Predominantly a work featuring melodic contours, the flowing lines ‘draw in’ the listener just as one is drawn in to the words of Longfellow.
Sara Teasdale lived a sickly life as a child, was unlucky in romance, unhappy in marriage, and chronically depressed to the point she took her own life in 1933. In The New Moon the composer opens in dramatic manner with a cappella chorus powerfully stating the crux of the poem’s theme, “Day, you have bruised and beaten me.” Yet, typical of Teasdale’s style, there are moments of light and hope; in this instance it is the moon that rises up above the drudgery and tribulation that the speaker experiences. The piano descriptively adds ‘backdrop’ to the work (the rolling sea; the ‘blurred’ harmonies of the clouds), while still maintaining independence throughout.
Arvo Pärt’s musical style is firmly rooted in minimalism, where the simplest or fewest elements are used to greatest effect. This setting of John Henry Newman’s sermon titled Wisdom and Innocence that was delivered in Littlemore, England on February 19, 1843, is one of only two works on this album that feature the organ. The repeated right hand motifs serve as an effective introduction to the choir, one that creates an atmosphere of dusk. The choral writing is in contrast to the repeating organ part; the long, drawn-out melodies lead to a climax at the words “Then in his mercy may He give us safe lodging.” The work ends almost as it begins, with the same right hand repeated motif, but this time the sound fades into the night.
Nox Aurumque draws on themes (such as ‘angels’) from the companion piece Lux Aurumque as well as from Whitacre’s larger work Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings. The composer has a dramatic flair for text painting, a creative and rich treatment of harmony, and electrifying ministering of melody, all of which are found in Nox Aurumque. Also characteristic of the work is the repeating opening section “Aurum” (gold) theme, which returns in the middle of the piece at the interval of a perfect fourth higher, and again in conclusion of the work, at the opening pitch level.
Dylan Thomas became acutely aware of his mortality after contracting an illness in his teenage years, and being told by the attending physician he probably had only four years to live. His angst and foreboding is palpable in his poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day…” Childs plays upon this theme with unsettling, shifting harmonic platforms throughout the piece. In an attempt to convince his dying father to fight against death, Thomas cites examples to illustrate his message; of wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men: “Though wise men at their end… do not go gentle”, and “Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright… Rage against the dying of the light.” Just as harmony plays a vital role in the work, melody also is an integral feature of Do Not Go Gentle. The melodic contour, broad and sweeping at the beginning, more compact and restrained in the middle section, finally rises to a climax in the dying moments of the work. Here it is depicted by two more iterations of “Rage against the dying…” before descending in pitch and weakening in intensity. The inevitable moment of resignation—being taken by the night—brings the piece to a quiet, placatory close; “…dying of the light.”
The only other work utilizing organ accompaniment is John Tavener’s You mantle yourself in Light, an anthem from his larger work The Veil of the Temple, a seven-hour All Night Vigil. Similar to Pärt’s treatment of his Littlemore Tractus, Tavener uses the organ in a very minimal style, employing pedal point throughout much of the work. Only at the climactic “young lions roaring for their prey, seeking food from God,” does the organ demonstrate more melodic interest, doubling the chorus in the most dramatic and ecstatic climax of the work.
In William Blake’s poem To the Evening Star the poet addresses themes of innocence and experience, subject material the Romantic English poet exploits in other works of his. Betinis captures the essence of the poem beautifully, from the ethereal opening and dramatic flute solo, to the reverent and obeisant “evening angel” theme, to the transcendent “And wash the dusk with silver”, and finally, to the rapturous “Alleluia!” section.
Morten Lauridsen’s lush and poignant setting of James Agee’s Sure On This Shining Night text from the Tennessee-born poet’s only published volume of poetry, Permit Me Voyage (1943), is perhaps one of his most recognised choral works, and arguably the most celebrated arrangement ever, second perhaps, only to Samuel Barber. From the outset Lauridsen relishes rubato in his hauntingly beautiful melodic contours; “Sure on this shining night of star-made shadows round, kindness must watch for me this side the ground, on this shining night.” The melodic lines are captivating, none more so than the tenor and bass “The late year lies down the north, / All is healed, all is health. / High summer holds the earth.” The piano accompaniment, rather facile upon first glance, enhances and embellishes the flowing, mellifluous and captivating lines, a facet that is rather typical of the composer’s writing. The dynamic contrasts found in Lauridsen’s setting are bold and stirring, ranging from the very loud fortissimo to the sotto voce and almost inaudible ppp at the final whispered “Sure on this shining night.”
Ticheli’s setting of another Teasdale poem, There Will Be Rest, is almost as dramatic as Lauridsen’s setting of Agee’s poem. Composed for his friends Carl and Susan St Clair following the drowning of their toddler son Cole St Clair, Ticheli captures the element of hope that is present in Teasdale’s words so beautifully, whilst employing such a rich melodic and harmonic texture, that one is left emotionally drained at the conclusion of the piece. That being said, one is also left with a sense of eternal hope. Despite all the tragedies in life, there is eternal promise and assurance that we will all find our “crystal of peace.”
David N. Childs
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