RECORDINGS & EVENTS A special eight-page section for readers in the US and Canada talks to... Patrick Dupré Quigley Seraphic Fire’s Artistic Director on his choir and its latest recording
The subtitle of your new disc is ‘A Century of American Choral Music’ – there must have been music you couldn’t include… So much, yes – from Elliott Carter and Walter Piston to the younger generation. For every one young American composer featured on this disc there were at least another 10 that we could have included. It became clear, for example, that we could easily make an entire disc of young female American composers who aren’t heard as much as they should be.
How did you come across young composers Jake Runestad and Colin Britt? I have to admit, I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to scrolling through Facebook and social media when I have some spare time; these composers are very active on social media and in a lot of instances they sought us out and connected with us. I’m glad they did!
Samuel Barber is right in the middle of the programme – is he still a central figure for
American composers, in stylistic terms? Absolutely. Even though there was a sense for some time that Barber was becoming a European composer, his Reincarnations has become an absolute touchstone for American composers and an idea of what an American sound and style in vocal music actually is – particularly in how it responds to text. Thanks for noticing that we’ve placed the Barber at the centre of the programme; it certainly is, in both a literal and figurative sense, as the programme both builds up to it and moves on from it. But there’s also vital context in the two traditional Shaker hymns we include here. This is music that is woven into America – a tradition those young composers and our singers are very familiar with.
Tell us about those singers…how do you achieve such extraordinary accuracy and blend within the ensemble? I think of Seraphic Fire as a sort of all-star choir for the United States, so although we’re rooted in South Florida, our members come from all over the USA. We work very hard on blend through vowel sounds, particularly at the upper end of the register, and I’m very keen to sing with ‘just intonation’, so low fourths and low thirds, like how a string quartet might think about its tuning. It really makes a difference to the sound. But more importantly, our singers take that away and back to their own ensembles and classes, as many of them are singing teachers and have their own choirs. I’d like to think we’re propagating a true national school of singing just through the way we perform ourselves.
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JS Bach . Beethoven ‘Mostly Transcriptions, Vol 2’ JS Bach Preludes and Fugues – BWV532 (transcr Busoni); BWV543 (transcr Liszt, S462). Violin Sonata No 5, BWV1018 – Adagio (transcr Siloti). Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV639/177 (transcr Busoni) Beethoven An die ferne Geliebte, Op 98 (transcr Liszt, S469). Piano Sonata No 111 Tien Hsieh pf MSR Classics F MS1531 (71’ • DDD)
The young Taiwaneseborn pianist Tien Hsieh continues her series of piano transcriptions for MSR Classics with music by Bach and Beethoven as heard gramophone.co.uk by pianistic titans Busoni, Liszt and Siloti, plus one original piece by their fellow titan Beethoven.
As a multiple prize-winner and already an experienced concert artist, Hsieh has her commanding way with Busoni and Liszt transcriptions of Bach’s Preludes in D major and A minor, while she changes course easily and uses a ‘less is more’ philosophy to discover the full range of physical beauty in Siloti’s adoring framing of the Adagio from Bach’s Fifth Violin Sonata. She particularly excels in Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte, its first recording in 10 years, 14 minutes of music that has been lost amid the profusion and popularity of Liszt’s Schubert transcriptions. Hsieh catches spontaneously and joyously Beethoven’s own open-hearted sweetness and nobility, and in doing so conveys a very real sense of poetry being transformed into music.
It is a greater challenge to merge the dimensions of size and intimacy that Beethoven’s Sonata Op 111 suggest and which truly compelling performances require. Hsieh begins with a miraculous, time-stretching phrasing of the opening bars, then is mostly content to lay out precisely the structural lines, applying great amplitude and warmth of phrasing, and letting the music unfold without haste – until, that is, a thrilling upsurge of movement into the chains of trills towards the end. The sound is full-range and natural. Laurence Vittes
Harman ‘After JSB-RS’ After Schumanna – I; II. 371b. Concertinoc. Der Tag mit seinem Lichtd
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