Charles Bruffy has long wanted to assemble the combined choirs that he has been directing since 1988 (KCC) and 1999 (PBC) to no little acclaim. Both have similar tonal characteristics and styles, redolent of the late Robert Shaw’s work in the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and his own Festival Singers, where Bruffy made a home for about 10 years. Being an Atlanta resident myself, it is a little startling to hear so many of the facets of the Shaw style coming across in the work of these Bruffy-led ensembles. Phrasing is always pointed and direct, much attention is given to the rounding of the end of passages, and the diction is in that same Shaw-inspired flavor where the consonants ring out strong and secure while the vowels are well-executed with an almost melodic resonance.
The music chosen for this recital is wonderful. Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae is a memorial work done in the remembrance of the luxury ferry Estonia that sank in the Baltic in 1994, considered the worst maritime tragedy in European peacetime. It takes as its text both psalm 107 and the actual transcript of the report of the disaster by the Finnish Broadcasting Company. This admixture of two such disparate sources, along with some gorgeous music exquisitely rendered, make this a work that should be played many times around the world.
There Will Be Rest by Southern California composer Frank Ticheli has already been heard many times around the world, having sold itself as a standard since it creation in 2000. It is a melodic, poignant, simple work that sets to music a poem by Sara Teasdale, winner of the Pulitzer Prize (Columbia University Poetry Prize Society) in 1917, but who was to later take her own life. Ticheli wrote this for friends whose child had died, and it is most moving, affecting, and strengthening. Likewise Rene Clausen’s In Pace, a 9/11 tribute that counteracts the violence of that grim event with a subtle mounting of chordal structures that imperceptibly change and mutate amidst some melodic statements engulfed in beautiful harmonies. This is a most fitting and glorious tribute to that day.
The meaty portion of this disc belongs to Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Chorus, a long time choral standard and one of the composer’s greatest works. Though born into a Calvinist household, the young Martin still felt pressed to create this piece that he was to lock away for many years. It is not the Martin of the later, more dissonant and thorny Second Viennese School influences (that he mitigated by his own non-acceptance of many of its more doctrinaire statements), but a lovely and faith-based presentation of the composer’s innermost self. In fact, he was always afraid that it would not be judged as an act of faith, but on artistic standards only. Not much to be worried about on that score anymore, I would say. Charles Bruffy sang this work as part of the Shaw Festival Singers, and that Telarc recording (Evocation of the Spirit) has so far set the standard for me. I am not sure that this one changes that, but further hearing may redirect my loyalties, for this is certainly a spectacular reading, nearly if not the equal of Shaw’s and Bruffy has the advantage of absolutely fantastic Super Audio surround sound. I don’t know where the Camelback Bible Church in Paradise Valley, Arizona is (or how Chandos found it), but I would certainly recommend it for any future endeavors by any choral conductors that happen to be reading this as an SACD heaven-haven.
This disc is certainly one of the best of the year, and any accolades the ensembles, conductor, and record company get because of it are well deserved. Only the somewhat short timing is a cause for concern, but in this case forgiveness is readily granted.
— Steven Ritter