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“25 Premieres for 25 Years” [TrackList follows] – The New York Virtuoso Singers/ Harold Rosenbaum – Soundbrush (2 CDs)

“25 Premieres for 25 Years” – The New York Virtuoso Singers/ Harold Rosenbaum – Soundbrush SR1027 (2 CDs), 88:30 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

The New York Virtuoso Singers have a long and quite distinguished history as one of the finest professional choirs anywhere. Their conductor, Harold Rosenbaum, has created an annual choral composition competition, commissioned 61 works, conducted over 475 world premieres, and recorded contemporary choral music on over thirty commercial CDs. It’s an amazing legacy, and in 2012 the 25th anniversary of this remarkable ensemble was celebrated with the recording of these 25 pieces. Note that these are not works that were performed over the last 25 years, but all were written specifically for this recording and for recent performances.

Just glance at the TrackList and you see that the musicians listed represent a Who’s Who of contemporary composers, some new, and some that have been around for a long time. Stylistically they are all over the map, yet nearly all have adopted a more recent tonal format that is completely opposite from what an album like this might have sounded like 40 years ago. The pieces are varied and gripping, exploring the emotions from every conceivable standpoint, and representing numerous poetical aspirations—just compare Augusta Read Thomas’s Spells with the unlikely coupling (to me anyway) of Gerard Manley Hopkins as her text, to Joan Tower’s Descending, who keeps the words at a bare minimum because she as a primarily instrumental composer felt a little overwhelmed at the idea of writing for voice! The always sparkling and well-set words of David Del Tredici serve us well in Alphabet II, while the loveliness of Jennifer Higdon’s The Prayer overwhelms.

As you might expect in a two-disc compilation like this, none of the pieces is very long, and that’s part of the fun—one jewel follows another, and I sat spellbound in anticipation as the aural train chugged from delicious track to delicious track. At first I thought that maybe this was one of those discs that could be played in the background during other activities, but the seduction of the music wore me down and I was able to do little else but breathe and listen. I will say that the sound, while very good and very clean, is not the most resonant, but that was not a problem for me. Concentrate on the music and all will be well, as I hope it is during the next 25 years for this remarkable ensemble.

TrackList:

David Del Tredici: Alphabet II
Steven Stucky: Say Thou Dost Love Me
Fred Lerdahl: Cornstalks
John Harbison: The Pool
Bruce Adolphe: Obedient Choir of Emotions
Shulamit Ran: The Humble Shall Inherit the Earth (Psalm 37)
Stephen Hartke: Audistis quia dictum est
Chen Yi: Let’s Reach a New Height
George Tsontakis: A Dream Within a Dream
John Corigliano: Upon Julia’s Clothes
Jennifer Higdon: The Prayer
Yehudi Wyner: Save me, O God
William Bolcom: Why Was Cupid a Boy?
Thea Musgrave: Starlight
Joseph Schwantner: Smoke
David Felder: Nomina sunt consequentia rerum
David Lang:  the same train
Joan Tower: Descending
Augusta Read Thomas: SPELLS
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Memorial
Richard Wernick: The Devil’s Game
Richard Danielpour: Lux Aeterna
Mark Adamo: Here
Roger Davidson: Song to Celia
Aaron Jay Kernis: Song of You

—Steven Ritter

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