SOUNDS OF AMERICA
G R A S S
J E F F
P H O T O G R A P H Y
Hauling the 17th century into the 21st: the Houston Chamber Choir performing Colonna’s Psalmi ad Vesperas in 2011
Yet while this suggests a tremendous degree of concentration, increasingly I find myself struck by Bach’s sheer audacity. For here, as Rangell again puts it, is Bach ‘alone with his genius’, happily indifferent to accusations of obscurity and intent only in the vast meditation of his final major instrumental composition on the summa of his art, though one that is incomplete, ending in an abrupt and poignant silence.
Praise for Rangell’s dedication and total immersion in his task could hardly be high enough: inseparable intellectual and virtuoso demands are met with unfaltering clarity and expressive beauty. This music, here finely recorded, for many (notably Glenn Gould) represents the sublimity of the contrapuntal art, of voices entwined in endless debate presented with unfailing lucidity. Bryce Morrison
Colonna Psalmi ad Vesperas, Op 12 Melissa Givens, Kelli Shircliffe sops Ryland Angel counterten Eduardo Tercero ten Matthew Treviño bass Houston Chamber Choir and Orchestra / Robert Simpson MSR Classics M MS1437 (78’ • DDD)
Houston choir follow Russian anthology with Baroque music Comparing these sacred works by the little-known 17th-century composer Giovanni Paolo Colonna
(1637-95) with the Houston choir’s previous collection, an anthology of little-known secular works by 19th-century Russian masters, one might think that the only thread connecting the two repertories is their obscurity. But without downplaying the overall sense of discovery simply in hearing these works (even the specialists who do know Colonna by name generally think of him more as an organist and organ builder), there are other threads apparent just beneath the surface. Disregarding the obvious differences in eras and cultures, both collections share an overriding sense of musicality, employing all the tools at a composer’s disposal regardless of the music’s intent. Much of Colonna’s word-painting and vocal ornamentation, for example, would hardly have been out of place in a Venetian opera house.
Granted, conductor Robert Simpson’s approach to Colonna seems particularly suited to making that case. This is not a recording for early music fetishists. Authenticity, whether in tuning or actual vocalism, is clearly not on the agenda, and the packaging plainly credits the editor and publisher of the modern edition.
Nor do the results seem particularly forced. The music calls for a tonal (rather than modal) approach, and while the 14-piece orchestra conveys the spirit of Baroque performance style, the recording quality recreates the acoustic of Houston’s Church of St John the Divine rather than a Bolognese cathedral.
The goal, in other words, is to haul Colonna into our world, not to look back at his. Ken Smith
Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (chamber version, arr Schoenberg-Riehn) Jennifer Johnson Cano mez Paul Groves ten St Luke’s Chamber Ensemble / George Manahan St Luke’s Collection F SLC3011 (66’ • DDD) Recorded live 2011
Chamber version of Mahler songs from New York-based St Luke’s In a tidy confluence of anniversaries, the St Luke’s Chamber Ensemble’s 2011 performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde honouring the centenary of the piece’s premiere has now been released on the orchestra’s own label, now in its 10th year. This recording of the chamber version (initiated by Schoenberg and completed by Rainer Riehn) would once have filled a wide gap, but now (since 2011) fills a rather smaller gap between the chamber purity of the Manchester Camerata and the sonic firepower of its fellow British ensemble, the Orchestra of the Swan.
George Manahan, a veteran conductor of both voices and 20th-century music, is expertly positioned for this piece, fitting Mahler’s inherent lyricism to an instrumental transparency straddling gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE MARCH 2013 III