Seraphic Fire

Reincarnations: A Century of American Choral Music

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Reincarnations is both the title of the underrated set of Samuel Barber choral pieces performed here and the overarching idea of this strong release from the Florida choir Seraphic Fire. With the simplicity of folk hymnody as a backdrop represented by a couple of Shaker hymns, director Patrick Dupré Quigley posits a line of American choral composition coming down from Barber to the present day, based on sophisticated techniques of various kinds applied to simple, appealing melody. This has proven to be such a potent combination that some of the composers here are becoming known well beyond the U.S. One is Morton Lauridsen, but from him comes not one of his trademark luminous works but an earlier piece, Mid-Winter Songs, settings of Robert Graves, that are closer to mid-century American modernism in style but seem to be fighting their way toward simplicity. It's an effective conclusion, and along the way are pieces by a variety of young composers who make one curious to see just how far this tradition can go. It's an original and persuasive program, matched by singing from Seraphic Fire that is increasingly close to the efforts of top European small vocal groups. For those who haven't checked out this geographically out-of-the-way ensemble, this tour through contemporary American choral music makes a good place to start.

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