Modern Masters

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Modern Masters, the fourth release by the versatile Kansas City-based vocal octet Octarium, founded in 2003 by Krista Lang Blackwood, focuses on new music by 10 American composers. It features both classics by Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre, and the first recordings of works by Steven Stucky, Stephen Paulus, and Mark Adamo, as well as the winner of the ensemble's 2009 composition competition: Eastman student Steve Daneyew. The repertoire is on the conservative side of the spectrum of new choral lyricism; the harmonic density of the Lauridsen and the Whitacre are about as adventurous as the pieces get, but the Daneyew is similar to those works in its style and impact. The ensemble is certainly at home in contrapuntal complexity, as early recordings demonstrate, but these works, for the most part, tend toward homophony, which give the album a sameness and leaves the listener craving a little more polyphonic variety. The group sings with secure intonation, warmth, and a good blend, and it's nice to hear this repertoire, which is usually sung by larger choirs, performed by such an intimate ensemble. The group's adaptability is evident in the gospel song "Double Shot," by Stephen Hatfield, to which they bring an idiomatic ease. The sound is generally good, but sometimes it is too resonant, and the lower voices can get boomy.

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