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Classical Music Review

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Voices of Earth and Air
Vol II - Works for Chorus


Composers: Various
Performed by: Various
Label: Navona Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 26 April 2019

Navona Records release the second volume in its Voices of Earth and Air choral compilation series. Settings of traditional prayers are mingled with ethereal stories and otherworldly visions, and each of the eight compositions both stand unique and work together harmoniously to create a collection that nods to the future of choral music...

Lovers of choral music are in for a treat here, as Navona Records haven't just quickly thrown together any old music they had lying around to give us a half-hearted compilation album. Voices of Earth and Air: Vol II has been lovingly curated to ensure that not only does the album flow smoothly, but that there's a wide diversity of styles. Some you'll like more than others, and some you may not even care for... but as a cross-section of the genre this is hard to top.

Scott Solak’s 'Ave Maria' starts off the collection. Richly tonal and resonant, the piece is written in memory of the composer’s mother, a second generation Polish Catholic.

'Ave Maria' is followed by Jonathan Little’s 'Crucifixus', another rich, vibrant work that presents modern interpretations of historic performance techniques and fills space with an all-encompassing listening experience. 'Crucifixus' appears to be an abridged version of the composers 'Woefully Arrayed' from his album Woefully Arrayed: Sacred & Secular Choral & Polychoral Works, which is well worth getting your hands on.

Helen MacKinnon’s 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo' demonstrates various moods throughout the piece, from tender to fiery and triumphant, all culminating in a glorious “Amen” to close the piece. The album then shifts to L Peter Deutsch’s A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. With jagged intervals and interesting harmonies, and text by famed fantasy author Ursula K. LeGuin, the choir and a single narrator retell the melancholy story of a young fisherman's loss resulting from a tryst in a magical underwater kingdom. Personally this was the one segment of the album that I didn't enjoy. Deutsch's music is enjoyable, but the narrator's voice is annoying and very distracting. To be fair, though, it only appears fleetingly.

Following this story is Juli Nunlist’s posthumously released 'Spells', an eerie, dissonant choral work that uses subtle recurrences to create an enveloping form. Daniel Morse’s 'Nachtlied' is an otherworldly soundscape that uses the writings of Austrian Expressionist poet Georg Trakl. Creating a sense of ritual, the otherworldliness is amplified by the use of electronic sounds created through manipulating pre-existing audio.

Peter Greve’s invocation for organ and mixed choir, 'Give Us Peace', is made up of four expressions of peace from four religious traditions. It follows a narrative arc of joy within communities, followed by violence and destruction, and finally a reconciliation and expression of peace between four different ideas.

The album concludes with Whitman Brown’s 'Psalm 23', a final return to sacred texts that creates a powerful bookend to the collection. Reverent and soothing, it gives a sense of conclusion to the journey.

Overall, this 15 track (1 hr, 01 min, 55 sec) album is an essential introduction to the world of choral music.

Track listing:

Scott Solak
01 - Ave Maria (3:44)
Vox Futura
Andrew Shenton (conductor)

Jonathan David Little
02 - Crucifixus, Op.13a (11:57)
Vox Futura
Andrew Shenton (conductor)
Heinrich Christensen (organ)

Helen MacKinnon
03 - Gloria in excelsis Deo (5:08)
Prague Mixed Chamber Choir
Jiří Petrdlík (conductor)

L Peter Deutsch
04 - A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (11:23)
Vox Futura
Andrew Shenton (conductor)
Matt Sharrock (temple blocks), Desiree Glazier-Nazro (triangles), Aaron Hatley (narrator)

Juli Nunlist
Spells (excerpts)
Vox Futura
Andrew Shenton (conductor)
05 - II. Spell of Sleep (3:58)
06 - VI. Spell of Creation (4:01)

Daniel Morse
07 - Nachtlied (8:22)
Prague Mixed Chamber Choir
Jiří Petrdlík (conductor)

Peter Greve
Give us Peace
Kühn Mixed Choir
Marek Vorlíček (conductor)
Karel Martínek (organ)
08 - I. Dreams of Peace (organ-solo) (1:29)
09 - II. Supplication (0:51)
10 - II. Incantation (1:17)
11 - IV. Monody (1:08)
12 - V. Devastation (1:14)
13 - VI. Despair (Lamento) (0:48)
14 - VI. Reconciliation (1:50)

Whitman Brown
15 - Psalm 23 (4:51)
Vox Futura
Andrew Shenton (conductor)


Darren Rea

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