RENE CLAUSEN: All that Hath Life and Breath Praise ye the Lord; O magnum mysterium; The Tyger; The Lamb; Mass for Double Choir; Magnificat; Prayer; O vos omnes; A New Creation: Set me as a seal – Kansas City Chorale/ Charles Bruffy – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5105, 62:25 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Rene Clausen is the longtime conductor of the Concordia Choir at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and one of the most beloved choral composers in the United States and worldwide. His early training consisted of stints at St. Olaf College (also a choral landmark) and the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana. Clausen’s music is freewheeling, tonal, slightly eclectic, and beautifully wedded to the texts he chooses, more often than not religious in nature yet devoid of any sort of overt-sugary sentimentality. His melodies are exceptionally expressive while his harmonies perfectly support the communicative abilities of his intentions.
This well-selected collection highlights his career from early to more recent, including such stellar “hits” as the opening All that Hath Life and Breath Praise ye the Lord, written when he was only 25 and since established as a worldwide favorite, Set me as a Seal from his cantata A New Creation, perhaps his best-known work though such assessments are often difficult.
Clausen has been especially successful in writing music according to the abilities of his ensembles, which makes The Tyger and The Lamb all the more exciting for their ability to conjure emotion while using the simplest of means. I found the Magnificat maybe the most melodically alluring while the more daring harmonics of O vos omnes are highly moving. The largest piece here is the Mass for Double Choir, a joint commission of the Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales, not at all stoic or simply a scaffold for the liturgical text, but a series of poetic and descriptive tone poems on the meaning of each movement.
The other pieces are equally engaging and make fine filler. Bruffy’s forces are in top notch condition while Chandos’s capturing of the ambience at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Kansas City translates into truly superb surround sound, from the mellow pianissimos to the forceful fortes, spread to perfection among all the speakers. A record to cherish.
—Steven Ritter