Conspirare / Craig Hella Johnson

The Hope of Loving: Choral Music of Jake Runestad

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Young composer Jake Runestad has scored performances with various American choirs, but this release by the choir Conspirare is the first album devoted exclusively to his work. He offers a Romantic tonal palette shading off into minimalist passages, but the most distinctive aspect of his work is his sensitive text selection and original treatment of texts. The authors here range from St. Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen to Wendell Berry and contemporary poet Todd Boss, but are unified by a broadly defined idea of mysticism. The contrast between the texts' austerity and the warm aesthetic of Runestad's music is attractive, and it is likely that choir directors looking for new items for yearly or holiday programs will find many options here. There's a certain sameness to some of Runestad's settings, although he's a gifted word-painter. The strongest work on the program may be The Hope of Loving, which was commissioned by a different small choir, Seraphic Fire. The work has an inner dynamic, including an all-instrumental movement, and here Runestad matches the music to the texts especially well in the final Meister Eckhart setting, which gives both the larger work and the album their titles. Delos achieves impressive text intelligibility at St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Conspirare's home city of Austin, and overall, this will be an enjoyably warm American choral release for many listeners.

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