GINASTERA: The Lamentations of Jeremiah; SCHNITTKE: Concerto for Choir – Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola/ Kent Tritle, director – MSR 1251, 49:41 ****1/2 [Distr. by Albany]:
First the disclaimer—this would have been a five-star effort if the producers had seen fit to include a little more music—actually a lot more. Surely on this superb concert there were some other pieces available? Anyway, this live recording captures a couple of tremendously affecting pieces of a nature and type that might surprise a lot of listeners. Surprise No. 1: That Alberto Ginastera could write such a profound and appealing setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah as what we have here. These biblical canticles are an acquired taste for a lot of people due to their incessantly somber nature, set in musical stone by so many renaissance masters, including the brilliant Palestrina. The music is liturgical by nature, and recordings often fail to convey the total experience that these settings provide worshippers. In this case, Ginastera takes a different approach altogether and gives us an opening first movement that is strikingly aggressive and annoyed; this is no prophet that is melancholy and repentant but one who is angry as he speaks “all of you who pass through life behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.” It puts a whole new spin on how you hear these things, and is a testament to the genius of the composer that he is able to grant us a fresh perspective on this age-old text and music. This is a wonderful discovery.
Surprise no. 2: The Schnittke is a late work that uses a religious text from the third chapter of the Book of Lamentations by the Armenian monk Saint Grigor Narekatsi (951-1003). This “concerto” is divided into the four parts that correspond to the text of Grigor’s work, and is an extraordinarily moving and intricate piece that successfully marries the typical and well known techniques of the composer along with a passion and romantic sensibility that seems to come directly from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. There is an inherent difficulty to this work that perhaps does indeed deserve the concerto appellation, but be not deceived; this is a religious piece of music through and through with some gorgeous harmonies and profoundly heartwarming moments, perhaps enough to make many people reconsider the virtues of some of Schnittke’s other compositions. But even I will have to admit that this work is in a category of its own – a marvelous discovery for me, and, I’ll wager, for you as well.
The Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola sings with an almost desperate affection in both of these works, while director Kent Tritle (also now taking over the reins of Musica Sacra) maintains a firm grip on the overall pace to wonderful effect. Highest recommendation.
— Steven Ritter