American Masterpieces


American Masterpieces


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 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.

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Track Listing

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

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  

Reincarnations, Samuel Barber         
9.   Mary Hynes
10. Anthony O’Daly
11. The Coolin’

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


"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 Northwestand recording the concerts live. Karen Thomas conducts with energy and sensitivity as required, shaping performances sure to please listeners drawn to this attractive program. 

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

"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, skillful 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, Gramophone Magazine, October 2008