A Top British Choir Presents American A Capella Classics

The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge Defines American Sound

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is there a contemporary American choral music sound? A growing number of American composers have banded around a style based on rich harmonies, luxurious textures and a spare expressive ethos.

Led by figures like Eric Whitacre and Stephen Paulus, these composers have arisen from a nexus of skilled American choirs, largely outside the realm of academic modernism or downtown styles. They have begun to make an impact globally too, as demonstrated in "Beyond All Mortal Dreams," a new recording of American choral music by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge under the direction of Stephen Layton.

One of the UK's leading mixed-voice choirs, this 34-voice ensemble is known for its longstanding advocacy of British music. In recent times, a certain competitiveness has built up between American and British choirs, and battle lines have been sharply drawn. The Choir of Trinity College is having none of it. This collection features a wide cross-section of 14 works by eight composers born or based in the U.S. (including one Canadian).

The most recognizable name to mainstream concert audiences here is Steven Stucky, the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer for composition. His Three New Motets 'in memoriam Thomas Tallis' pays tribute to the Renaissance luminary in quiet, radiant fashion. Latin texts are also featured in Frank Ferko’s Hildegard Triptych, an ethereal homage to the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Paulus is represented with three pieces including The day is done, a sweeping score based on a poem by Henry Longfellow. Rene Clausen (b 1953) contributes his ecstatic contemplation of a sunset at sea in Tonight, Eternity Alone while Healey Willan's (1880-1968) sublime I beheld her, beautiful as a dove is the standout example of an earlier era.

Conspicuously absent here is the aforementioned Eric Whitacre. Nevertheless, the collection offers a fine introduction to many lesser-known composers who are taking choral music in compelling new directions.

Beyond All Mortal Dreams: American A Cappella
Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge
Stephen Layton, Conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com

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Comments [3]

Jean Siegel from Bloomfield, NJ

Thank you so much for inviting me to a WQXR "round table" discussion. No sooner had I requested more choral music, this CD was chosen as the CD of the week!.

I first heard it at 2:00 AM and enjoyed listening to it all week. I plan to purchase it.


Jul. 14 2011 12:20 AM
Vicki McGrath from Chatham, NJ

I was glad to see that the website noted that one of these composers was Canadian-based. You can imagine my surprise when listening to the intro that claimed the album was works by American composers, and then the very next selection was a piece by Healey Willan, who born in England, and then emigrated to Canada where he became very much a part of Canadian musical life.

Jul. 11 2011 08:33 PM
Michael Meltzer

If you're going to pick a "leader" for contemporary American choral composition, start with Morten Lauridsen.

Jul. 11 2011 12:05 AM

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