Rolling River – American Choral
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms; Hashkiveinu; Muhly: A Good Understanding; A Great Stone; plus works by Barber, Higdon, Howells, D Lang, C Shaw and Whitacre
Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Tanya Houghton (harp), Owen Gunnell (percussion); Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Graham Ross; George Gillow, Samuel Jones (organ)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905362 74:35 mins
Graham Ross and Clare College Choir make a strong case for Bernstein’s stripped-down version of the Chichester Psalms. Organ, harp and percussion provide the accompaniment, and allied with youthful voices, light on vibrato, produce an altogether leaner, more transparent aesthetic impression than the fuller orchestral version. The tricky curlicues of the opening movement’s choral writing emerge unusually clearly, as does the percussive detailing. Countertenor Iestyn Davies, luxury casting in the second movement setting of Psalm 23, sings with a crystalline plangency. Organist George Gillow provides a gripping prelude to the finale, whose hushed coda is beautifully shaped by Ross and his singers. Bernstein’s Hashkiveinu, a short setting for cantor, choir and organ, is also included, and gets a ringingly committed performance.
Among the six pieces by living American composers on the album Jennifer Higdon’s O magnum mysterium stands out, the choir’s luminous harmonies set evocatively against a glimmering accompaniment of two solo flutes, chimes and crystal glasses. The delicate textures of Nico Muhly’s A Great Stone, with its two soprano soloists, are exquisitely interwoven under Ross’s sure direction, and the swelling crescendos of Muhly’s A Good Understanding reveal the choir’s excellent command of dynamics. A boldly expressive performance of Eric Whitacre’s virtuoso showpiece Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine rounds out the programme, the piece’s manifold technical difficulties grasped with a refreshing confidence.