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Read Thomas’s Ritual Incantations and other works, conducted by Daniel Stowe

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Augusta Read Thomas
Ritual Incantations; Chi; Qi; Angel Tears; Earth Prayers; Klee Musings; Rhea Enchanted; Venus Enchanted; Dappled Things; Eurythmy Etudes
Allen Harrington (saxophone), David Finckel, Scott Kluksdahl (cello), Lynn Raley (piano), Lottie Enns-Braun (organ); Spektral Quartet; Third Coast Percussion; Civitas Ensemble; Taipei Symphony Orchestra/Felix Chiu-Sen Chen; University of Notre Dame Glee Club/Daniel Stowe
Nimbus NI 6355

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As this latest Nimbus anthology of her recent output confirms, the American composer Augusta Read Thomas (b1964) has a gift for immediate communication, enhanced by a flair for titles and background programmes that provide the listener with useful ways into the music. The oldest piece here is Ritual Incantations of 1999, a sequence of three declamatory monologues for cello supported by vivid orchestral writing: David Finckel is the compelling orator at the heart of events.

Chi is a string quartet inspired by the Chinese idea of the life force, in four movements alternating between restless energy and meditative stillness; the Spektral Quartet projects both moods with confidence. Klee Musings is a piano trio suggested by paintings of Paul Klee, in which two fragmented, jazzy scherzos enclose a slow movement of calm bell sounds. The Civitas Ensemble performs this with precision and finesse.

Among the smaller pieces on the disc, the ear is caught by Qi, a precision-engineered relay race for four percussionists (Third Coast Percussion) playing two marimbas. There are also a pair of spare-textured meditations for saxophone and organ, two cello monologues inspired by classical goddesses, a provokingly broken-up setting for male voices of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem Dappled Things, and a pair of piano Etudes in Thomas’s by now familiar modes of jumpy scherzoand punctuated stillness.

The standard of performances is high. The recordings are a mixed bag, some with uncomfortably up-close microphone placings, but always acceptable. There are helpful notes by the composer Paul Pellay.

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Anthony Burton