Nico Muhly is one of the brightest and most promising American composers to emerge in the early 21st century. He was born in 1981 and wrote the choral pieces recorded here in his early to mid-twenties. As a child he sang in men and boys choirs, so the classics of the English choral repertoire from the Renaissance to the present had a formative impact on his musical thinking, and that deep familiarity is demonstrated in the fluency of his choral writing. These are exceptionally appealing new settings of texts that are mostly familiar -- the Mass, Magnificat, and Nunc dimittis -- as well as several more obscure texts and a secular set using Whitman. Bright Mass with Canons is one of Muhly's most frequently performed works, and rightly so. The piece shows his mastery of both contemporary choral writing and the tight canonic procedures of composers like Tallis and Taverner. It is bright in its clarity and the mood of openness and vitality that it emanates, and in the inventive sparkle of the quirky organ accompaniment. The motet Senex puerem portabat is hugely impressive, with an urgently yearning opening that builds to a wildly ecstatic climax. The remaining works are also appealing and expertly crafted, but for the most part lack the distinctiveness and focus of the mass or the motet. The text setting is always exemplary, but some of the pieces sound like the music is driven only by the text, without meaningful larger musical structures holding them coherently together. Like so many American composers who came after the ascendency of minimalism and who write in an essentially tonal idiom, Muhly grapples (but perhaps doesn't grapple forcefully enough) with the long shadows of Steve Reich and John Adams. It's too easy to hear the sonorities and figurations of Reich's The Desert Music and Adams' Klinghoffer choruses in some of these pieces. Nonetheless, Muhly's achievement is impressive and he has plenty of time to develop a distinctive individual voice. The Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by Grant Gershon and joined on one track by the Los Angeles Children's Chorus, sings passionately and with great commitment. The fresh youthfulness of their sound is an ideal match for the energy of Muhly's music. The pieces are accompanied by various forces, including organ, percussion, brass, and strings. Decca's sound is clean, clear, and warm, with excellent balance.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Bright Mass with Canons|
|First Service (Magnificat & Nunc dimittis)|
|Expecting the Main Things from You|