* ROBERT KYR: The Singer’s Ode; The Cloud of Unknowing; Songs of the Soul – Conspirare/ Soloists/ Victoria Bach Festival Orch./ Craig Hella Johnson – Harmonia mundi

* ROBERT KYR: The Singer’s Ode; The Cloud of Unknowing; Songs of the Soul – Conspirare/ Esteli Gomez, sop./ David Farwig, bar./ Victoria Bach Festival Orch./ Craig Hella Johnson – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU 807577, 76:48 *****:

I have never heard any music by Robert Kyr, and that is certainly my loss. The two cantatas based on the works of two Spanish saints, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, are sumptuous in scoring, effervescent in choral effect and scintillatingly gripping in ecstatic emotional impact. These are two of the finest choral works I have heard since Robert Spano’s issue of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Del Tredici’s Paul Revere’s Ride and Theofanidis’s The Here and Now (which you must hear if you have not already).

Kyr has also made two separate modes of composition present as well. The 2011 Songs of the Soul, based on John of the Cross, takes as its text the Dark Night of the Soul, and is a type of “Bach” cantata with alternating and contrasting musical forces featuring soloists of chorus, very contrapuntal in nature. The work is affecting and beautifully drawn, providing a shaded contrast in the midst of the John of the Cross poetry that brings out a dramatic curve in the saint’s work while imbuing it with music of a highly personal and overtly heart-on-sleeve manner.

The Cloud of Unknowing (2013) is a selection of texts from St. John’s monastic companion Teresa of Avila, one of the most mystical and yet blatantly outspoken religious women in history, whose spiritual treatises have had an incalculable influence on many. It is mixed with the 14th century English author of The Cloud of Unknowing from which the work takes its title. This is a much more chorally intensive piece that is gripping from first to last, almost more musical climaxes than should be allowed! Kyr weaves his magic with writing that is vocally natural and musically varied in terms of its use of harmony and melody—no one-size-fits-all schema that you might find—effectively I might add—in the music of someone like Eric Whitacre. Kyr is his own man and uses the full arsenal of skills to generate just the effects he needs, always at the service of these complex and hard-to-pin-down ecstatic utterances.

Opening the recording is the short The Singer’s Ode with texts by Kyr himself. It serves as a prelude to that which follows, but does not seem integral to me, despite the work being a capella and quite enjoyable. The soloists and magnificent artistry of Conspirare is on full display, coupled with multichannel sound that is splendid beyond words, an outstanding surround sound recording in all respects. Definitely a keeper.

—Steven Ritter

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