Esenvalds: Passion and Resurrection

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COMPOSERS: Esenvalds
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Passion and Resurrection; Evening; Night Prayer; A Drop in the Ocean; Legend of the Walled-in Woman; Long Road
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano); Polyphony; Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton

Gabriel Jackson’s booklet notes pre-emptively defend Latvian Eriks Esenvalds against potential accusations of ‘wilful eclecticism’: ‘Esenvalds is a pragmatic composer…tailoring each new work to the requirements of the occasion…the abilities (and priorities) of the performers.’
To some that may seem an odd, redundant boast, yet, for the last few centuries, individual personal expression has increasingly been the predominant purpose of art, and largely remains so: many composers are identifiable by their shtick, which lodges in the mind more than the ‘meaning’ of the music. Esenvalds responds to the purpose of the words he sets, occupying similar choral territory to the likes of Whitacre and Shchedrin, character rather than ego dominating. 
Carolyn Sampson is the featured guest on the title piece and sings superbly, but there is also very fine work by soloists from within Polyphony, particularly the sopranos. E≥envalds favours the upper voices, giving them luminous, floating melodies against backgrounds that set them in shimmering relief, or throw mysterious, penumbrous cloaks around them. Polyphony typically balances beauty of timbre with precise articulation and empathy with the texts, drawn from various scriptural sources, contemporary poetry and a wise aphorism from Mother Teresa. Barry Witherden