Phoenix Chorale

Northern Lights: Choral Works by Ola Gjeilo

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Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, born in 1978, received his training at Juilliard and has made New York his base of operations. This 2012 CD includes almost all of his published works for mixed voices to date. He served as composer-in-residence with the Grammy Award-winning Phoenix Chorale, which performs his music here under the leadership of Charles Bruffy. Gjeilo uses exclusively sacred texts, set mostly in Latin, except for English translations of two texts by St. Augustine and St. John of the Cross. Gjeilo falls into the category of American choral composers like Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre whose work has accessibility and originality that make it immensely popular with performers and audiences. Of the three, Gjeilo is the most conservative in his harmonic language and adherence to choral conventions of earlier eras. His work resembles that of Eastern European minimalists like Arvo Pärt in its reliance largely on homophonic textures, which have the virtue of making the texts easily comprehensible. There is a soft-edged harmonic and melodic focus to several of these pieces, particularly The Ground and Evening Prayer, that veers toward a new age sensibility. At its best, the music has a natural, inexorable flow and is radiant and ecstatic. Among the most impressive works are Northern Lights, Serenity, The Spheres, Phoenix, and Unicornis captivatur. The Phoenix Chorale performs with its characteristically impeccable technique and sumptuous blend. It excels in the long-breathed lyricism that's typical of most of these pieces; Bruffy effectively summons a mood of spacious serenity that serves the music beautifully. The group fully lives up to its reputation as one of the very finest choral ensemble singing today. Most of the pieces are a cappella, but the Harrington String Quartet, tenor saxophonist Ted Belledin, and the composer on piano assist on several tracks. The sound of Chandos' hybrid SACD is immaculate and warmly natural.

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