Ulf Schirmer

Paradisi Gloria 21: 21st Century Sacred Music

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Conductor Ulf Schirmer and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester regularly commission new works, and this release includes live performances of the premieres of pieces from 2008 and 2009, with Mary and Magnificat as the theme. The premieres include works, each about 20 minutes long, some for orchestra alone and some including chorus and soloists, by four composers born between 1952 and 1973. Catalan composer Oriol Cruixent's Abismes for orchestra is a fairly conventional modernist tone poem that moves from a depiction of chaos to joyful affirmation, with the orchestral players intoning words from the Sermon on the Mount at the end. Introductio - Meditatio - Magnificat - Epilogus for high soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra by Austrian Gerd Kühr is more musically adventurous and interesting; his spare, unemotional style, reflecting his religious skepticism, is at odds with the ecstatic text of the Magnificat, but as a purely musical experience the piece is inventive and effectively dramatic. Joanna Wozny, born in Poland but trained in Austria, has written that her intent with Archipel for large orchestra was to create an atmosphere of quiet and stillness, and she succeeds. The meditative piece is mostly static and very, very quiet, with the extensive orchestral forces deployed judiciously to create a variety of subdued tone colors. Salve Regina, by Austrian Johanna Doderer is scored for soprano, chorus, and orchestra, and comes closest to being the kind of piece one would expect based on the theme. Although this is clearly a contemporary work that uses an array of 20th century compositional techniques, the music has a rhapsodic grandeur and sweep, and is essentially tonal, even sumptuously neo-Romantic. The performances by Schirmer and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester and Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks are very fine, although only the Doderer gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity for producing a big, conventionally beautiful orchestral and choral sound. Baritone Adrian Eröd is adequate in the Kühr, but soprano Angelika Luz is painfully shrill, due at least in part to the insensitivity of the vocal writing. In contrast, soprano Marlis Petersen is absolutely radiant in her large, lyrically gratifying role in the Doderer. The sound of the live recordings is clean, with little distracting noise, but somewhat flat and not very lively.

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