The Crossing / Donald Nally / Scott Dettra

Christmas Daybreak

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The small Philadelphia choir called the Crossing has gained a following and even become financially viable with a repertoire consisting entirely of contemporary works. The group has tended toward postmodern tonal pieces rather than toward atonal music, and with this release takes another step in the direction of audience accessibility: the program offers that most traditional and consistent of crowd-pleasers: a collection of Christmas music. Nevertheless, the music will be unknown to most listeners, and the fact that the Crossing and its director, Donald Nally, put it successfully across is an impressive accomplishment. Part of the reason it works so well is the variety of approaches, all of them direct and strongly engaged with the sacred texts. (The album's cover design suggests a New Age mood that is not present in the music.) The program is more British than American, and special emphasis is placed on the music of the Bermudian-born composer Gabriel Jackson, whose works show a fascinating influence from soul and R&B genres. It is not rhythmic, but rather is evident in the close, stacked harmonies in the music, which have a gospel-like effect even though the harmonic context is completely different. Other works involve simple but contemporary settings of familiar carols such as Lo, how a rose e'er blooming or manipulate Gregorian chant. The choir itself has commissioned several works that fit its goals well; one of them, Zachary Wadsworth's Gabriel's Message, is rooted in Basque song. The faithful will find personal engagement with the texts here; followers of contemporary music will find simple, original concepts; and devotees of choral singing will find precise intonation and superb text enunciation. A small winner all around.

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