Kansas City Chorale / Charles Bruffy

Life and Breath: Choral Works by René Clausen

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Composer and conductor René Clausen has been an important presence in the world of late 20th and early 21st century American choral music. The pieces on this album, written between 1978 and 2011, represent a broad overview of the composer's career. Clausen's musical language in the earlier pieces such as All that hath life and breath, praise ye the Lord (1978) is essentially rooted in the tonal/modal harmonic idiom that had been the lingua franca of American Protestant sacred anthems since the mid-20th century and that was typified by composers like Daniel Pinkham. Later works like O magnum mysterium are more harmonically expansive and show the influence of composers like Morten Lauridsen. The most recent piece, Mass for double choir, written in 2011, is the most substantial, original, and demanding, and it is given its world-premiere recording here. Clausen is especially successful in making settings that capture the essence of the texts; the Kyrie, for instance, is almost desperately pleading, and the Sanctus is sparkling and wonder-filled. He handles the Credo, the movement that most frequently flummoxes composers (and which drives many to create a Missa Brevis rather than a full Mass), with great skill; he manages to make musical sense of a long, sprawling text that is all over the place in its emotional content. Clausen takes good advantage of the antiphonal possibilities and textural richness of the divided choir. Charles Bruffy leads the Kansas City Chorale in polished, spirited, and nuanced performances of the music. The Chorale's tone is warm and well-blended and the group enunciates beautifully.

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