Skylark

Crossing Over

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The new American a cappella choir Skylark aims for general audiences with this release of contemporary choral pieces about death. The booklet notes include the texts of the pieces plus a short reflection on the topic; there is no information about the composers or the historical context of the music. But serious students of modern choral music will find great originality and depth here as well. The music comes from the minimalist side of the contemporary spectrum, or at least from the realm of, to borrow a phrase from Glenn Watkins, new simplicities. It is for the most part little-known, and it hangs together beautifully. The two major composers represented are John Tavener, with the Funeral Ikos and a set of brief, crystalline Butterfly Dreams (sample track five, the "Haiku by Issa," with its tumult of voices converging to single tones), and William Schuman, with the three short and very powerful Carols of Death. All the music is concise, in the manner of utterances made or heard on a deathbed; the longest work is the Heliocentric Meditation of Robert Vuichard (born 1985), at just over nine minutes. This is new music, put together in a new way, beautifully sung and recorded. In short, it's fabulous for listeners looking for a place to start with contemporary choral music, downbeat subject matter or not.

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