JAMES PRIMOSCH: Sacred Songs = From a Book of Hours; Four Sacred Songs; Dark the Star; Holy the Firm – Susan Narucki, sop./ William Sharp, bar./ 21st Century Consort/ Christopher Kendall – Bridge 9422, 76:03 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

James Primosch is in many ways a worthy inheritor of one of his teachers, George Crumb, whose music I have always loved. But Primosch is more direct; Crumb, while colorful and mystically engulfed in the world of pure sound often as an extension of meaning itself, used poetry as an adjunct to the very idea of expressivity. For Primosch, as much as I can ascertain, the texts are more important in terms of direct expression—in other words, he cares very deeply about the words and their plain meaning, but uses his music to surround them as with a comforting and all-encompassing blanket. The style is far from difficult, but I don’t get the impression that he is really concerned with such things. In his interesting short essay in the booklet notes, “Vocal Music in the 21st century: is Anything Sacred?” composer john Harbison asks whether an address to “both mind and heart, a passionate conviction” is what we hope for in music, and seems to lament that what we normally get is “sophistication, attitude, polish, aggression.” Primosch is the antithesis to that, and while his profoundly sacred music is not something saccharine or turgid, it is also airy, thoughtful, and challenging, as any real sacred endeavor should be.

I can’t go through each cycle here, nor would it serve any purpose. Suffice it to say that each of the four is substantial and involved, and must be given the utmost attention in order to participate in the raptness of the subjects. It takes the sacred seriously, and seriously considers the sacred implications of inviting you, the listener, to a new and involved appreciation of subjects that are sometimes dismissed as passé and irrelevant in our day. If such subjects inspire music like this, the point is contraindicated forcefully.

Susan Narucki’s soprano carries the day in most of this recital, her rich and highly perceptive voice completely attuned to Primosch’s art. William Shape is an old hat at such things and turns in the appropriate performance. Kendall’s 21st Century Consort plays with delicacy and love, in an acoustic of softness and clarity.

—Steven Ritter