Laquita Mitchell (soprano), Raehann Bryce-Davis (mezzo-soprano), Joshua Blue (tenor), Malcolm J. Merriweather (baritone), Dashon Burton (bass-baritone); Oratorio Society of New York Chorus and Orchestra/Kent Tritle
Naxos 8.559884 70.43 mins
American composer Paul Moravec (b1957) has fine form in dramatising compelling moments in history, beginning with his cantata The Blizzard Voices (2008) which chronicles the devastating snowstorm that struck America’s upper Midwest in 1888. Sanctuary Road (2017) is the most recent of Moravec’s ‘historical cantatas’ and explores the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes used by enslaved African Americans to escape into free states and Canada in the 19th century. Mark Campbell’s skillful libretto is based on the writings of William Still, an African-American abolitionist who documented the experiences of individuals passing through this dangerous escape network.
Moravec’s largely tonal score is deeply affecting and conveys the many voices represented in Still’s writings, notably in the prologue’s gently overlapping melodic lines where name after name ripples among soloists and chorus. Later arias focus on individual stories, from ‘Rain (Clarissa Davies)’, a radiant hymn celebrating rainfall as a vital aid to escape and beautifully sung here by Laquita Mitchell, to the heart-pounding drama of ‘Run I (Wesley Harris)’ performed with real verve by Joshua Blue.
The orchestral performances aren’t flawless, with some prominent slips in the brass, but the vocal performances are outstanding and this is without question an admirable recording of a powerful new work. Kate Wakeling