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American Masterpieces (2008)

Beloved American choral music from Seattle Pro Musica’s American Masterpieces Choral Festival at Benaroya Hall, and other 2006-2007 American Masterpieces Season concerts. Enjoy the best of American choral music on this new CD, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. Includes works by Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Moses Hogan, and Morten Lauridsen.

American Masterpieces is also available as a digital download through CD Baby.




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Audio clips will play with Windows Media Player or iTunes.
 

1   Spring Song, Leonard Bernstein
2   Sa Nuit D'Ete, Morten Lauridsen
3   To Mistress Margaret Hussey
     
(from Medieval Lyrics), Karen P. Thomas
4   The Battle of Jericho, arr. Moses Hogan
1:50
3:22
1:42
 
2:17

Madrigalia: Six “Firesongs” on Italian
Renaissance poetry
| Morten Lauridsen
5   Io Piango  
6   Amor, Io senta L'alma
7   Se per havervi, oime

8   Io Son la Primavera, William Hawley 
2:57
1:54
3:42

3:24

Reincarnations Samuel Barber        
9    Mary Hynes  
10  Anthony O’Daly
11  The Coolin’ 
2:19
3:34
3:41

12  Da Pacem (World premiere recording)
       John Muehleisen 
13  Winter, Joshua Shank
14  Lux Aurumque, Eric Whitacre
15  How Can I Keep from Singing,
       arr. Karen P. Thomas
16  McKay, Carol Barnett 
17  Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal,
       arr. Alice Parker
18  Chichester Psalms (Movement I),
       Leonard Bernstein  
7:27

7:51
3:09
4:24

3:57
2:16

4:00


 


































FANFARE REVIEW, NOV/DEC 2008. 
Seattle Pro Musica, a much-lauded choral ensemble, was one of seven recipients of a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts supporting performances of American music (American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius). Focusing on the most recent third of that time span, the group devoted its 2006-2007 season to contemporary composers, performing their works throughout the Pacific Northwest and recording the concerts live. Karen Thomas conducts with energy and sensitivity as required, shaping performances sure to please listeners drawn to this attractive program. Read more…

 

Leonard Bernstein's Spring Song, introduced by flamenco-like hand claps, and his Chichester Psalms (Movement 1), with its drums, organ, and occasional West Side Story feel, book end a recital that includes spirituals, modern madrigals inspired by Italian poetry, hymn tunes, and music that can trace its lineage to Gregorian chant or Bach chorales.

Although contemporary, the selections don't rely on avant-garde techniques for dramatic effect. As the notes make clear, however, that doesn't preclude the composers utilizing all manner of technical refinements in constructing these carefully crafted pieces. The prevalent sound is smooth and svelte as opposed to disjunct or dissonant. In addition, there's an interesting alternation in temporal perspective when the music fuses antique inspiration and contemporary aesthetics, as in Lauridsen's Six Fire Songs on Italian Renaissance Poems, Hawley's Io son la primavera, and Karen P. Thomas's To Mistress Margaret Hussey. Muehleisen's Da pacem (a world premiere) is another outstanding example that draws on older material (in this case Bach) to provide the foundation for its moving juxtaposition of soaring solo soprano and massed voices. Beauty and religious aspirations manifest themselves in a more extroverted way in the spirituals and hymn tunes, i.e., The Battle of Jericho, How Can I Keep from Singing, and Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal. Jericho is appropriately rousing, but the others are no less capable of instilling joy allied to faith, albeit with a more pastoral sound.

 

The concerts were recorded at three locations, so there's an audible difference between them, but the overall quality is satisfactory. The notes are quite thorough and include substantial commentary from many of the composers, along with complete versions of the chosen texts (in their original languages and in translation). To sum up, this is an engaging compilation that celebrates the variety and vitality of American choral music of the 20th and 21st centuries. (If you'd like to learn more about Seattle Pro Musica, look for James Reel's feature in Fanfare 26:4. The group has also been reviewed numerous times in Fanfare.)


Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Nov/Dec 2008

 



GRAMMOPHONE REVIEW OCT. 2008. 
Samuel Barber wrote his Reincarnations in 1940 to words by James Stephens whose poems are based upon ballads by the 18th-century Irish poet Raftery. Barber's sophistication and expressive precision are immediately apparent in Mary Hynes with a fast, virtuoso opening followed by a lyrical second part. Anthony O'Daly is a striking setting with its traditional wailing drone, followed by the harmonic subtlety of The Coolin. Other highlights include the mysterious beauty of John Muehleisen's Da pacem, skilful in its deployment of soloist and women's chorus, with soprano Ginger Ellingson inspired in the very high tessitura. Also worthy are Eric Whitacre's Lux aurumque, with its shimmering textures (quite Lauridsen-like), and especially Joshua Shank's Winter. The longest work here at 7'51", Shank's ee cummings setting is evocative and atmospheric, the 28-year-old composer distilling a sustained mood most impressively, with the chorus providing glowing advocacy.

Lawrence A. Johnson, Grammophone, October 2008 
  




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Reviews


"Illustrates the vitality and excellence of the best contemporary North American vocal ensembles."
—Jean-Marie Marchal, International Choral Bulletin, 4th Quarter, 2008


"Karen Thomas conducts with energy and sensitivity as required, shaping performances sure to please listeners drawn to this attractive program. " Read more below…
—Robert Schulslaper, Fanfare Nov/Dec 2008

"Seattle Pro Musica has been a feature of the city's music scene for 36 years, with an admirable emphasis on contemporary music...In Madrigali: Six Fire Songs on Italian Renaissance Poetry, the 70-member chorus conveys the reflective mystery and poised serenity in the haunting Io piango, and shows nimble articulation in the florid Amore, io sento l'alma." Read more below…
—Lawrence A Johnson, Grammophone, October 2008

"Pro Musica's beautiful tone, exact pitch sense, clear words, expressiveness and togetherness made each song's performance a work of art...Among the many highlights were the gorgeous harmonies of Hawley's Io Son la Primavera, three movements from Lauridsen's Madrigali...and the split-second timing of Moses Hogan's arrangement of The Battle of Jericho...It was an unforgettable concert. Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica deserve enormous credit for...raising awareness of how fine Northwest choral singing is. Not least, they have shown themselves to be a choir on a level with the best choirs in the country.
—Philippa Kiraly, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 19, 2007, reviewing the American Masterpieces Festival—where portions of this CD were recorded live in concert.