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17 December 2015

CD REVIEW: "Soft Blink of Amber Light" variety of new composers

by Steven Ritter (Audiophile Audition)

“Soft Blink of Amber Light” – DAVID ASHLEY WHITE: The Blue Estuaries; JOCELYN HAGEN: soft blink of amber light; CHRISTOPHER THEOPHANIDES: Messages to Myself; WAYNE OQUIN: O Magnum Mysterium; DOMINICK DIORIO: A Dome of Many-colored Glass – Houston Ch. Choir/ Robert Simpson/ Lisa Nickl, flute/ Eric Chi, clar./ Scott Simpson, marimba/ Stacey Weber, sop. – MSR Classics MS1499, 56:13 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The title to this album aptly summarizes the overall emotional tone. There is nothing in the works that shakes the rafters or quakes the ground. Instead they are all rather ruminative and color-laden, doing their dead-level best to present the texts, each of which is paramount in the underlying conception of the compositions. I am most stricken by three of them: soft blink is something short enough to make an impression, yet powerful enough, partly aided by the instrumental ensemble of flute, clarinet, piano, and marimba, that the poetry of Julia Klatt Singer resonates with concentrated intensity. It takes a lot of guts to set O Magnum Mysterium these days with this tradition, but Wayne Oquin’s minimalist setting speaks volumes in a piece of great refinement. And Dominick DiOrio’s A Dome of Many-coloured Glass uses the marimba—and a soprano—to exciting and virtuosic effect even within the confines of Any Lowell’s reflective and exceedingly evocative poetry.

This doesn’t mean that the other two pieces, Theophanides’s Messages to Myself and White’s The Blue Estuaries are unworthy—far from it—but these other three are the high points for me. The Houston Chamber Choir is a superb ensemble ably directed by conductor Robert Simpson, and MSR has grippingly caught their excellent technique and tonal qualities set in the Church of St. John the Divine in Houston. A fine addition to the American choral recorded legacy.

—Steven Ritter