Classical, New Music
Navona Records NV5939
Reviewed by Elizabeth Silsbury, February 1st, 2016
Navona record company, based in North Hampton USA, has put together a collection of choral and instrumental pieces. Eight of the eleven are linked by a common thread of religious texts or themes. All purport to build new structures on old foundations.
Of the composers, only Andrew Schultz is Australian. His works were recorded in Prague. The remaining five are natives of Europe and USA, evidence of their talents being garnered from three American studios and two Czech. Despite this, the quality of the disc is consistent, the performances refined.
The Kühn Mixed Choir of Prague, conducted by Marek Vorlicek has done Schultz proud. His Magnificat begins with Mary musing in wonderment at this miracle that has befallen upon her. (No, I don’t believe it either. But let’s go along with it for the sake of the story.)
Schultz has entered the mind of the virgin, imagining her changing emotions, even a touch of trepidation, ending in a restrained shout of triumph that she of all women has been chosen for this mystical honour. His Magnificat is a beautiful piece, beautifully sung. It would sit well beside the Bach setting in live performance.
The modern professor recalls his classical training with an equally engaging Nunc Dimittis, wherein a lengthy passage of imitation based on the ordinary but always special tonic chord takes the ear on a safe journey to the hereafter with a happy landing.
The same conductor gives a robust account of Sergio Cervetti’s Lux Lucet in Tenebris – the sopranos might have been moved a little farther away from the microphones for a less strident effect.
Five organ solos, Toccatas in C and F and three chorales by Oberlin graduate David Nisbet Stewart are played by Libor Dudas and recorded in Massachusetts. All are cast in reliable moulds, with themes and voices clearly differentiated.
The final three pieces on the disc desert sacred for secular and are all listener-friendly.
Joanne D Carey’s Sinfonia Concertante for Horn and Chamber Orchestra will appeal especially to soloists and conductors seeking material that is rewarding for performers and listeners alike. The composer compares her piece to a scherzo, and there is plenty of activity, often quite jolly, from the strings and long lines for horn players who fancy themselves in lyrical mode. Trombones and voices sing the spectacular sunset (1) in the Scottish Highlands described by the Victorian poet William Renton, and high voices and three chorale-ish trombones impart a faraway flavour.
Would that other composers might follow the lead of Jonathan Sacks and simply call their new piece For Organ and Orchestra instead of dreaming up fancy monikers that might mean the world to them and very little to anyone else.
Asked by a conductor if he had a piece to christen a new organ in the Czech Republic town of Olomouc, Sacks did not but set about to make one. And a robust, substantial baby is it too, with clear structure and arresting ideas, that comes over well on record and would surely be even more impressive live. A monumental cadenza bristles with variety, each new idea building up excitement and entertainment.
Praise indeed for the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Peter Vronsky and organist Thomas Pinch.
Little enthusiasm for the Navona company. While the writing, production and performances are all undeniably professional, the information about the works and the composers smacks of well-meaning amateurism.
Save money by not including a printed booklet with the disc?
Sure, put it all on the disc itself. No CD drive on your computer?
Chase up the information in a booklet, download and set up on split screen with file.
Time-consuming, irritating tracking down (eg) the details of the Moravian Philharmonic (not in California). Fortunately the music, especially Schultz and Sacks, made it all worthwhile.
Please, let it not be a trend.
(1) A precious memory. Sometime in the early 70s, the Music Board of the Australia Council met in Hobart. At twilight beside the river, we (Don Banks, James Murdoch, Jane Spring, Mary Vallentine, John Hopkins, Kim Williams) drank the bubbly Suzanne Gleeson had stashed in her backpack while Don conducted us in a unique, impromptu vocal improvisation called Singing the Sunset. We talked about it for years.