Cappella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss
Pentatone PTC 5187 001 55:43 mins
Written over the course of 14 years, the writings took flight from David Lang’s interest in the contrast between the ‘dark and philosophical’ Book of Ecclesiastes and its use during Sukkot, ‘a joyous religious festival celebrating abundance’. From here, Lang began accumulating settings of Old Testament texts, with a particular focus on five books from The Writings, the third section of the Hebrew Bible, which ‘chart the course of a year’. For Lang, these texts are ‘a catalogue of human emotions, repeating endlessly, year after year’ and his spare settings are at once meditative and energising, crisp yet mesmeric.
Cappella Amsterdam conjure a hypnotic sense of balance and clarity, making excellent sense of every subtle shift in mood. For instance, the opening number ‘again (after ecclesiastes)’ is repeated at the work’s close, but with the instruction that it should ‘sung differently’ (for ‘the cycle, like the year, may repeat, but never exactly’); at the opening rendition, the choir bring measured stability, whereas the reprise is suffused with tenderness, and the choir leans into Lang’s dissonances to powerful effect.
Lang’s music is subtle yet affecting in its unsentimental exploration of the human condition, and is met here with a performance of sensitivity and poise.