* Jaakko Mantyjarvi: Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae
* Frank Ticheli: There Will be Rest
* Frank Martin: Mass for double choir
* Rene Clausen: In Pace
Phoenix Bach Choir, Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy
Chandos CHSA5045 SACD Total time: 59:49
Summary for the Busy Executive: Ambitious.
As a choral director, Charles Bruffy comes from the Robert Shaw wing.
He gets a beautiful sound from his choirs, due to an emphasis on choral
uniformity of vowels. His groups, like the defunct Dale Warland Singers,
tend to emphasize the tough and the contemporary.
I might as well get the basic stuff out of the way: this is a fine
CD, judged by the highest standard. Serious music - at least one
classic - receives beautiful performances. As far as the program goes,
only one piece, Rene Clausen's In Pace, falls short of the standard
Bruffy sets everywhere else. There's nothing wrong with it. It's just
a "choir-master" piece, with little other than smooth part-writing to
recommend it. Clausen, director of the Concordia College Choir in
Minnesota, has written a sleigh-load of similar works for college and
My favorite new work is the Finn Jaakko Mantyjarvi's Canticum Calamitatis
Maritimae ("song of the maritime disaster"), based on the loss of more
than 900 lives on a cruise ship that went down heading from Estonia to
Sweden in the Eighties. An imaginative compendium of contemporary
techniques, the Canticum rises above them. It begins with a solo soprano
wordlessly spinning out a folk-like melismata over freely-whispered
prayers. The men enter on open fifths, and a solo tenor recites, in a
line strongly reminiscent of Gregorian chant, the circumstances of the
disaster. So far, if I had to compare it to any other music, I'd pick
Veljo Tormis or one of the other Baltic Holy Minimalist masters. Then
comes a long setting of Psalm 107 ("They that go down to the sea in
ships"), and all that goes out the window. Mantyjarvi reveals himself
as a neo-Modernist like his countryman Rautavaara, but more folk-like
and diatonic, with a fondness for beautiful chord progressions. The
piece ends as it began, with the ecstatic solo soprano line over whispered
Frank Ticheli, who teaches at USC, is best-known for his band and
orchestral pieces. Nevertheless, There Will be Rest, which sets a Sara
Teasdale lyric, has become a recent choral hit. The writing has a family
look to Morten Lauridsen's, but it's pretty enough to stand on its own.
It follows the poem with great care for the poem's phrasing and with
sensitivity to meaning.
The big piece on the program, Frank Martin's Mass for double choir,
after years of neglect due to the composer's hiding it in a drawer,
has quickly established itself as a repertory touchstone. My favorite
performance comes from the Dale Warland Singers (American Choral Catalogue
120). It takes a great choir just to get through the work, let alone
get through it with grace. Bruffy and his singers do a good job - superb
intonation and beautiful blend. If they disappoint slightly, it's because
I compare them to Warland's account. Diction tends to run to the vague,
with little color variety in the tone.
I also pick nits with Chandos's engineering. Sure, it's a beautiful
sound, but in the Martin, it's a blob of beautiful sound. One doesn't
often get the sharp image of two choirs playing off one another. The
engineers do much better with the Canticum.
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