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Lisa Flynn
WFMT (Chicago), December 2012

The Best Classical Recordings of 2012

Celebrating its 50th season in 2012, Chicago’s Grant Park Chorus conducted by Christopher Bell, made its a cappella CD debut with an all-American program of eight imaginative, moving, and sometimes whimsical works written between 1975 and 2005, including four world premieres. © 2012 WFMT (Chicago)

David DeBoor Canfield
Fanfare, November 2012

This CD presents a recital of pleasing and ingratiating choral music, all a cappella, and sung with fervor, good blend, and accuracy of rhythm and intonation, by the Grant Park Chorus. Christopher Bell keeps things moving at the proper pacing, and achieves secure balances among the sections of the chorus. The recital encompasses music of composers both well known and much less known, but the overall quality of the works is high.

The “smaller creatures” alluded to in the title of the album allude to two works devoted to bees, including the first movement, “The Bees’ Song,” of the CD’s opening cycle by Abbie Betinis. The busyness of bees is quite vividly depicted here, along with a brief amusing quote from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble-Bee.

Eric Whitacre is, along with Ned Rorem, the best-known choral composer on this disc, and is represented by two of his oft-performed works, the mournful When David Heard with layering of seconds characteristic of this composer. The text depicts the grief that King David felt on the death of his son, Absalom. The CD closes with Whitacre’s gentle setting of Sleep. Stacy Garrop, who has had an entire CD on the Cedille label devoted to her music, is represented by her Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy. This accomplished work in three contrasting movements that set texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay is characterized by rich harmonies and textures. Sonnets adds to my appreciation of Garrop’s skills as a composer…

It is…strongly recommended to those of you inclined to this medium, and to others who would like to listen outside the box. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, November 2012

The choir does a lovely job with two of Eric Whitacre’s signature works, and if you don’t know Ned Rorem’s Motets for the Church Year you’ll be the better for having made their acquaintance.

…the singing from Grant Park is wonderful; clear, bright, enthusiastic, technically immaculate, and deeply felt. This program lurches all over the place emotionally, and these folks can turn on a dime. Christopher Bell learned his trade in the British Isles but his choir produces a robust, full-blown sound that’s American all the way. The program was recorded in concert, but there’s no audience noise anywhere. Not a rustle. The choir is perfectly placed on the sound stage: not too reverberant and not too close, but not too far either. Enjoy the preliminary buzzing, then, but be ready for more. A lot more. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review

Donald Rosenberg
Gramophone, October 2012

The Grant Park choristers, led by Christopher Bell, sing everything with cohesive precision and a spectrum of vocal colours. The performances were recorded in concert in Chicago’s Millennium Park, but the minimal noise suggests that the audience was glued to every lyrical or zany phrase. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, September 2012

This is the first I have heard the Grant Park Chorus, and it has been a very pleasant experience. In this program of American choral works by composers known and not so known, they shine like the stars—and are recorded brilliantly…

After hearing Toward Sunshine, Toward Freedom, with its imitation of a few of the “smaller creatures” done in a clever and completely non-cutesy manner, and following it with the delightful Dickinson settings Buzzings: 3 Pieces about Bees, both pieces of great substance, it is Eric Whitacre’s When David Heard that strikes me as the first genuine masterwork on this program. I have been critical of Whitacre in the past, though I am also a fan; sometimes his music seems too cut from the same cloth, more than just stylistic association. But hearing it in the context of these other composers show his close-knit sonorities and highly-effective choral ecstasies in pronounced relief compared to others. This piece is wonderful, as is his closing Sleep.

Paul Crabtree’s 5 Romantic Miniatures offer wonderfully varied vignettes from the words of Homer, Marge, Abe, and Lisa…Crabtree weaves a mesmerizing set of short miniatures…

Cedille once again scores big on a well-planned and executed album…the Grant Park Group has every reason to be proud of this album and has given all of the composers’ superb successes. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

David Vernier, August 2012

The disc’s title comes from Abbie Betinis’ set of three “songs of smaller creatures”, specifically bees, a spider, and butterflies, the texts respectively from Walter de la Mare, Walt Whitman, and Charles Swinburne. The other two songs are similarly attentive to creating a sound representation of their texts and subjects…

…“Bee! I’m expecting you!”, is a delightful monologue, full of humor and clever vocal writing that’s more like speech than song. The Grant Park Chorus proves here and throughout this program of very challenging works…its world-class ensemble stature, and any fan of choral music interested in the more-or-less contemporary “scene” should enjoy not only the singing, but the manner in which these composers handle text and expressive vocal technique.

Not all of the music is recently contemporary: the Kesselman pieces, as well as works by David del Tredici and Ned Rorem date from the 1970s; Paul Crabtree’s Five Romantic Miniatures (based on “texts” from, of all things, the television show The Simpsons!) are from 1999; and even the two Eric Whitacre works are more than 10 years old.  Tredici’s beautiful song from his Final Alice is of course the most solidly tonal on the program, but it still somehow remains fresh-sounding, its last phrase (which is identical to that in the hymn-tune “Madrid”) remaining long and not unpleasantly in your ear. Strongly recommended! © 2012 Read complete review

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, July 2012

The program begins with the music of Abbie Betinis…her three-movement vocal work that gives its title to the album, Toward Sunshine, Toward Freedom: Song of Smaller Creatures. The composition begins with “The bees’ song,” a cute, expressive piece based on a poem by Walter de la Mare…Next is “A noiseless, patient spider” from the Walt Whitman poem, followed by “envoi,” which uses a nonsense text by Charles Swinburne…It’s all very simple yet quietly haunting and moving.

After Ms. Betinis we get Buzzings: Three Pieces about Bees from Lee Kesselman…The three pieces are “To make a prairie,” “A Bee his burnished carriage,” and “Bee! I’m expecting you,” all deriving from poems by Emily Dickinson. Like most of Ms. Dickinson’s poetry, the songs are brief, sweet, and meaningful. The choir sing them, as they do throughout, with clarity, precision, and, most of all, with feeling.

And so it goes, with music by Eric Whitacre (“When David Heard”), Stacy Garrop (Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy), David Tredici (“Acrostic Song”), Ned Rorem (Seven Motets for the Church’s Year), and Paul Crabtree (Five Romantic Miniatures, which finds its inspiration in The Simpsons television show). The program ends with more from Whitacre, “Sleep.” As Whitacre notes, music often depends upon the “perfect balance between sound and silence,” and in this regard we may judge all of these presentations a success. The album will not disappoint lovers of choral music.

Producer James Ginsburg and Cedille engineers Eric Arunas and Bill Maylone recorded the music in concert at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois, in 2011…the sound is remarkably smooth and clean, with just a touch of natural hall resonance to give it a warm glow. The singers appear well spread out across the sound stage, and the engineers give them ample opportunity to communicate clearly and effectively. © 2012 Classical Candor Read complete review

Mia Clarke
Time Out Chicago, July 2012

The concept of Songs of Smaller Creatures hinges on explorations of nature and love, from Betinis’s humorous tone poem about a lively bee to Garrop’s setting of 16 love sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay. While the pastoral pieces flow as naturally as the organic cyclic rhythms they explore, the high point of the CD is the quality of the recording itself. Captured inside the Harris Theater under the guidance of chorus director Christopher Bell, Smaller Creatures gives the listeners the opportunity to hear the group in full exposure, without the accompaniment of an orchestra. From large-scale chorus to solitary soloist, Smaller Creatures is further proof of the GPC’s ability to pack a serious vocal punch. © 2012 Time Out Chicago

Lisa Flynn
WFMT (Chicago), July 2012

Celebrating its 50th season, Chicago’s Grant Park Chorus conducted by Christopher Bell, makes it’s a cappella CD debut with an all-American program of eight imaginative, moving, and sometimes whimsical works… © 2012 WFMT (Chicago) Read complete review

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