COMPOSERS: Adler,etc,Loeffler,Schoenberg,Virgil Thomson
LABELS: Gloriae Dei Cantores
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: by the Rivers of Babylon
WORKS: Works by Loeffler, Virgil Thomson, Schoenberg, Adler,
PERFORMER: Gloriae Dei Cantores/Elizabeth C. Patterson
CATALOGUE NO: GDCD 027
The Psalms have been sung for well over a thousand years; indeed, many seem to have been written specifically with musical performance in mind. Today they still play a central role in both Jewish and Christian worship and, as American Psalmody Vol. II demonstrates, inspired US composers, both native and immigrant, throughout the last century.
The disc starts promisingly, contrasting Loeffler’s very decorative, French-influenced By the Rivers of Babylon (1901), with the sparse antiphonal settings of Virgil Thomson in his own modern style of monastic plainchant.
Schoenberg’s final work, De profundis, setting Psalm 130, is a passionate and moving response to the plight of Judaism in the previous two decades – a faith to which he returned in the States, as a gesture of solidarity.
But as the disc, and the century, progress, the music becomes more frothy and entertaining, expressing praise through slick syncopations and jaunty melodies. Settings by Clifford Taylor, Kent Newbury and Robert Starer feel like transatlantic cousins of John Rutter’s, skilfully written but lacking in depth.
The choir, under Elizabeth Patterson, eschews a pure, churchy sound in favour of a more earthbound approach, and only occasionally sounds anything other than fully professional. But how could any producer let through the appalling cello intonation at the end of the Loeffler, marring an otherwise pleasing performance? Janet Banks