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01 January 2016

CD REVIEW: 'Soft Blink of Amber Light'

by Laurence Vittes (Gramophone (January 2016))

CD REVIEW

'Soft Blink of Amber Light'

DiOrio: A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass
Hagen: soft blink of amber light
Oquin: O magnum mysterium
Theofanidis: Messages to Myself
DA White: The Blue Estuaries

Houston Chamber Choir / Robert Simpson
MSR Classics MS1499 (56' DDD)

The Houston Chamber Choir celebrate their 20th birthday with first recordings of commissions to five American composers; all save one is more than 50, and in their otherwise unrelated series of reflections on love, life and death, each is committed to the power of music immersed in words, and to keeping the choir's characteristic tonal purity, harmonic precision, virtuosity and sense of musical exploration foremost in mind. 

For the title-track, Jocelyn Hagen immerses herself meditatively in Julia Klatt Singer's fireflies, 'ancient mating dreams, and the soft blink of amber light'; Christopher Theofanidis's Messages to Myself, set to poems by Whitman, Rumi, Amy Beth Kirsten and Years, may be the most purely inventive music on the CD. Wayne Oquin's O magnum mysterium, commissioned by the Whitewater Chamber Singers at the University of Wisconsin, is a wonderful study in gentle reverence, rising to an emotional peak. There is a similar note of gradually awakening, nearly spiritual ecstasy in David Ashley White's 'Train Tune', the fourth of his The Blue Estuaries, when Louise Bogan's poetry proposes 'in the clear night of stars / Swing their lights westward / To set behind the land'.

Dominick DiOrio's 17-minute A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, to poems by Amy Lowell, is scored for the choir with a solo part for marimba. It's a tour de force of inventive thinking and unique colour, which DiOrio calls a 'cantata-concerto', and brings the programme to a brilliant conclusion with a cascade of notes at the lines, 'Joy! With the vigorous earth I am one'.