Gloriae Dei Cantores / Elizabeth C. Patterson

Mandorla: Choral Masterworks of Frank Martin, Edvard Grieg & Howard Hanson

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Boston-based choir Gloriae Dei Cantores was established in 1988 by Elizabeth C. Patterson, who continues as its director. In this release it brings together three devotional choral works by Frank Martin, Edvard Grieg, and Howard Hanson. The pieces are unified by harmonic straightforwardness, rooted in late Romantic traditions, but very much colored by the austerity of plainsong, and by an earnest, reverential character. The Martin Mass for a cappella double choir is a virtuoso work, demanding exceptional discipline, and the choir performs it with complete assurance. Patterson leads the ensemble in a nuanced, serene performance that gives the music plenty of room to breathe. Due largely to the use of vibrato, the choir has a warmer, more Romantic sound than most groups that perform this piece, who tend to sing it with a purer, whiter sound. Given the complexity of Martin's eight-part writing, the purer sound makes it easier to maintain clarity and focused intonation, but Gloriae Dei Cantores stays securely on pitch, so it's up to listeners whether they prefer a warmer or a purer sound in selecting a recording. The choir's sound fits comfortably with Grieg's Four Psalms and Hanson's The Cherubic Hymn. Grieg's lush Psalm settings, his last compositions, are based on folk songs, and the choir captures their earthy energy. The baritone soloists, drawn from the choir, are clearly not professionals, but their somewhat rough delivery is not inappropriate for music derived from popular folk song. Hanson's work, using a text by St. John Chrysostom, which is accompanied by organ, is clearly a product of the 20th century, but its chant-like character, using a great deal of unison singing, makes it directly communicative. The sound of the hybrid SACD is clean, clear, and present.

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