New England Choirworks
Esmail: This love between us ‘Prayers for unity’; D Hill: God be in my head; Kellogg: Shout joy!; Olson: Magnificat; R Williams: A New England Symphony
Juilliard415; Elm City Girls’ Choir; Yale Schola Cantorum/David Hill
Hyperion CDA68314 75:16 mins
This disc contains more strikingly diverse sounds than the title New England Choirworks might suggest. An outward-looking sacrality, with messages of love and hope, unites the five pieces here, sentiments that present more challenges to a composer than does dystopian bleakness.
Tawnie Olson’s Magnificat immediately grabs attention with its pungent evocations of Bulgarian women’s choirs, conveyed convincingly by Elm City Girls’ Choir, which then combine and interleave with the Yale voices to reimagine medieval organum for the 21st century. Reena Esmail’s This love between us ‘Prayers for unity’ is the most substantial work. Reflecting her Indian-American heritage, the seven movements each set a text from one of the religions practised in India, with corresponding variety of musical intent, from mesmerising ululations, via hints of Baroque choruses to driving exuberant exclamations. The only accompanied work, colours are added not only by Juilliard 415, but also the twang of sitar and shimmying tabla rhythms, the naturalness and integrity of Esmail’s music ensuring this is no mere touristic fusion.
Roderick Williams’s A New England Symphony sets poets from that area, but with transatlantic connections to England and North Africa. The four unaccompanied movements captivate from the moment the exhorting opening note emerges to the Symphony’s radiant conclusion, especially in this rousing performance. David Hill’s affecting God be in my head and Daniel Kellogg’s high-spirited Shout joy! make an effective contrasting pair at the heart of this rewarding disc.