Sunday, November 22, 2015

Medieval/modern Sunday special: Responsio

The Coronation of the Virgin, Rheims Cathedral
As a medievalist and liturgy nerd with an active interest in new music, I feel that I am standing somewhere quite near the metaphorical bullseye of the target audience for a contemporary Mass setting inspired by Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Notre Dame. Canadian composer Peter-Anthony Togni's Responsio embroiders upon, responds to, and joyfully interacts with Machaut's hauntingly lovely setting. The resulting music is sometimes meditative, sometimes exuberant, and always interesting.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Special: Divine Redeemer

Church of the Gesù, Milwaukee
Any album covering Bach to the twentieth century can seem riskily ambitious. But Christine Brewer and Paul Jacobs offer an engaging recital of sacred music for voice and organ, demonstrating the diversity of this repertoire. The vast spaces of Milwaukee's Church of the Gesù create resonances that were occasionally odd, to my ear, but this may be in part because because I expect to hear these pieces performed in different spaces from each other. Also, the church appears to be much bigger not only than that of the average parish, but than that of the average parish with a pipe organ. Seeing the album cover blazoned with the names of composers from four centuries and multiple traditions, I wondered about the cohesion of the disc. In the event, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of unfamiliar works alongside pieces frequently performed, if more seldom with this high level of musicianship.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Jedermann: Sibelius meditates on mortality

Gentle Readers, I suggest that we banish the phrase "hidden masterpiece." Agreed? Good. Leaving that meaningless cliché aside, I can go on to happily discuss why Sibelius' 1916 music for Hofmannsthal's Jedermann (1911) is really worth a listen. Atmospheric and harmonically rich, it's a treat in its own right, doing interesting things with musical form. Rarely performed or recorded, it has a new and engaging recording from the Finnish forces of the Turku Philharmonic under Leif Segerstram, and the Cathedralis Aboensis Choir. Sibelius composed the work to adhere exactly to stage directions, a prescription that the CD leaflet speculatively blames for its rare performance. I can't hear that, myself. The piece is not symmetrically composed, but it's richly allusive, lively and meditative by turns. Sibelius may have been annoyed that the devil never came in on cue, but there's plenty to enjoy in the piece without its accompanying morality play. The work is rounded out, on the disc, by thematically similar works of the composer from around the same period.


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