Tonus Peregrinus

Antony Pitts: Alpha and Omega

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One of the things that makes the sacred a cappella work of Antony Pitts (born in 1969) stand out from that of the many excellent emerging choral composers of his generation is his fearless defiance of harmonic and melodic conventions; just when you think he's heading for an easy landing, he veers off into unexpected, exhilaratingly wild territory. This music strives for, and frequently succeeds in, expressing a state of astonishing, soaring, feral ecstasy. Pitts' work frequently includes dense chromatic harmonies that in other contexts might sound raw, but when sung are complex, but warm, even lush. He may flirt with a reassuring, familiar sentimentality, but he never succumbs to it, and the effect is bracing. On the other hand, his music is never so uncompromisingly dense that it loses the listener; it's rooted in triadic harmony and has an undeniable emotional directness that never leaves the work's meaning in doubt. Pitts has the technical chops to direct his aesthetic vision into a satisfyingly diverse range of pieces -- he can write swirling, cloudlike masses of harmonies, or rigorously contrapuntal canons that recall Steve Reich. The former effect is most effectively deployed in The Peace of Jerusalem, and the later in the dancing closing movement of A Thousand Years. In the double quartet that he conducts, Tonus Peregrinus, Pitts has assembled an ensemble for which he can write with impunity. Its ability to negotiate the music's extreme demands is staggering, and the group does it with wonderfully pure tone, warm blend, and impassioned expressiveness. Pitts is a composer to watch out for: these remarkably assured and compelling works should be of strong interest to any fan of contemporary choral music.

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