BRUBECK: Songs of Praise = Canticles; Ev’ry Christmas I Hear Bells; Sleep. Holy Infant, Sleep; Why We Sing at Christmas; Precious Gift His Wondrous Birth; The Commandments; Psalm 23; Credo; Benediction – Pacific Mozart Ensemble/ Quartet San Francisco/ Lynne Morrow, Richard Grant, conductors – Dorian 92101, 58:33 **** [Distrib. by Naxos]:
The religious side of Dave Brubeck has become quite manifest in his later years. I remember walking him across the campus of Indiana University years ago (1973) and hearing him complain of his lack of time for “serious writing” and how he was always looking for a “chance to write” whenever he could. He was not talking about jazz composition, and while not a little of his serious work contains allusions to the art form that made him famous, much of it now is devoid of that influence, at least as much as any American composer can avoid it. It is definitely under the skin of many, born from within.
All of these works are affective and effective, Brubeck having become quite the choral expert over the last 20 years. He knows how to write in an idiomatic manner for choirs, and I think his sense of textual reflective-ness has grown since the advent of the latest century. The most important works here are the three Canticles to the Virgin Mary, Ave Maria (Annunciation, with quote from the eastern Akathist Hymn), Concordi laetitia (Nativity), and Salve Mater (Crucifixion), a 30-minute piece in total that makes use of the modern idiom along with traditional chants. The Commandments is a piece that grew out of Brubeck’s WWII experiences where he seemed to have a conflict between faith and practice as he perceived it during that difficult time. The Millken Foundation suggested its premiere at Lincoln Center at the same time as his Gates of Justice. The work is very serious in tone and quite dramatic, expressing the composer’s convictions about the commandments being at the root of the three great monotheistic religions.
Credo was written at the invitation of the Pacific Mozart Ensemble where the missing sections of Mozart’s Mass in C-minor were supplemented by completions from Meredith Monk, David Lang, and Brubeck, a wholly unaccompanied setting that is my favorite piece on this disc. Brubeck makes sense from Mozart’s fragment yet it is always Brubeck. I can’t say how well this really fits with the Mozart—probably not that well—but taken on its own terms it is an excellent work.
The sound is a little close in for me here—Skywalker Studios in California—and needs a bit more resonance. But overall the program is an attractive one, and those thinking Brubeck’s last piece was “Take Five” (and that was Paul Desmond’s) should check his work out. This is a good place to start.
— Steven Ritter