Songs of Smaller Creatures and Other American Choral Works = ABBIE BETINIS: Toward Sunshine, Toward Freedom: Songs of Smaller Creatures; LEE KESSELMAN: Buzzings: 3 Pieces about Bees; ERIC WHITACRE: When David Heard; Sleep; STACY GARROP: Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy; DAVID DEL TREDICI: Acrostic Song from “Final Alice”; NED ROREM: 7 Motets for the Church’s Year; PAUL CRABTREE: 5 Romantic Miniatures – Grant Park Chorus/ Christopher Bell – Cedille CDR 90000 131, 60:42 [Distr. by Naxos] ****1/2:
This is the first I have heard the Grant Park Chorus, and it has been a very pleasant experience. In this program of American choral works by composers known and not so known, they shine like the stars—and are recorded brilliantly–though each and every one is nothing less than interesting. Some are really invigorating.
After hearing Toward Sunshine, Toward Freedom, with its imitation of a few of the “smaller creatures” done in a clever and completely non-cutesy manner, and following it with the delightful Dickinson settings Buzzings: 3 Pieces about Bees, both pieces of great substance, it is Eric Whitacre’s When David Heard that strikes me as the first genuine masterwork on this program. I have been critical of Whitacre in the past, though I am also a fan; sometimes his music seems too cut from the same cloth, more than just stylistic association. But hearing it in the context of these other composers show his close-knit sonorities and highly-effective choral ecstasies in pronounced relief compared to others. This piece is wonderful, as is his closing Sleep.
But there are other stars as well. Stacy Garrop, fresh off a previous Cedille success herself on a solo album (Music of Stacy Garrop), gives us three settings of the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay called Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy that are remarkably sensitive to the nuances of the text and would certainly make the always-wild and crazy Millay smile herself, a truly inspired piece. Ned Rorem is always welcome, and his 7 Motets for the Church’s Year, begun on commission in 1977 and completed for the 1986 75th anniversary of all Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, draws from a variety of churchly musical sources, from medieval-like open harmonies to the riches of Appalachian Sacred Harp Music. The work offers a stained-glass window opening into the profundities of Rorem’s sacred muse.
Paul Crabtree’s 5 Romantic Miniatures offer wonderfully varied vignettes from the words of Homer, Marge, Abe, and Lisa—all characters from the iconic television series The Simpsons. You would not think that such inanities could amount to fine music, but Crabtree weaves a mesmerizing set of short miniatures, though I was taken aback by his description in the notes of one of the influences of these pieces, his father. Reading that his “brutal selfishness and alarming immaturity were tempered by a genuine love which he could not express, and is uncomfortably like Homer Simpson” is perhaps a little too much honesty for liner notes; it made me uncomfortable to read it.
Cedille once again scores big on a well-planned and executed album. Though some of the solo work seems strained in places intonation-wise, and I did notice an inconsistency in terms of individual vibrato merged into the whole—some is very wide and tends to stick out—the Grant Park Group has every reason to be proud of this album and has given all of the composers’ superb successes.
The unifying purpose of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn…