David Farwig / Estelí Gomez / Conspirare / Craig Hella Johnson

Robert Kyr: The Cloud of Unknowing; Songs of the Soul

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The pleasantly tonal religious choral work, literate in its selection of text and compositionally accomplished in its evocation of Renaissance and Baroque models, has been up to now the province mostly of British composers and performers. Even those for whom such music is less attractive will be impressed by the strength of this new American entry, featuring music by the Oregon composer Robert Kyr. The choir is the increasingly acclaimed Austin, TX, ensemble Conspirare, which has a rotating membership. That doesn't impede director Craig Hella Johnson in forging a smooth sound that's ideally suited to this music. All the music has been written since 2010. After a brief opening motet, The Singer's Ode, comes a pair of cantatas, conceived as companion works to each other and roughly tracing a path from doubt to faith, and exploring the relationship between human and divine love. Each text mixes the writings of a Renaissance-era mystic -- St. Teresa of Avila in the case of The Cloud of Unknowing and St. John of the Cross in Songs of the Soul -- with biblical passages. The texts likewise shift among Spanish, English, and Latin. Songs of the Soul was intended to evoke Bach in its sequence of movements with contrasting forces. But really the language of the two large works is close, with spare passages in medieval-tinged harmonies coalescing into big, ecstatic utterances. Those who like affirmative chorus-and-orchestra religious music may find this a must-have, and even if not, it's clear that Karl Jenkins and company have serious competition on their hands.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:59
The Cloud of Unknowing
2 2:27
3 2:06
4 2:36
5 7:25
6 1:28
7 1:52
8 2:31
9 1:15
10 2:43
11 2:32
Songs of the Soul
12 10:37
13 4:26
14 8:45
15 4:27
16 5:41
17 6:29
18 6:18
blue highlight denotes track pick