Charles Bruffy / Phoenix Chorale

Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary

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The booklet biography here points out that the Phoenix Chorale, formerly the Phoenix Bach Choir, is the first North American chorus to record for Chandos, the audiophile home of English cathedral choirs and other representatives of British tradition. That's noteworthy enough in itself, and better still is that the program here is not one that would be likely to come from a British group. Unified by its Marian idea, the program mixed classic British and contemporary American pieces in a novel way, and it provides an excellent window for the world on the vigorous tradition of a cappella choral music that has evolved independently of academic trends and their strictures. All the music here exploits, to a greater or lesser degree, the acoustic effects possible with an a cappella chorus in a large space, and Chandos, turning its engineers loose in an Arizona desert megachurch called the Camelback Bible Church, achieves spectacular results. The standout is perhaps the final four-movement Electa, by Kansas City composer Jean Belmont Ford, with its intense passages of overlap between a solo soprano tone and the choir and its haunting use of solo timpani and bass drum, the only instruments heard anywhere on the disc. Both the Ford work and the Two Marian Pieces by Spanish-born Javier Busto are world premieres, and both are likely to be eagerly adopted by other choirs. The singers -- there appear to be 24 -- shine equally in the subtle dissonances of the first of Busto's pieces and in the tricky artlessness of Benjamin Britten's A Hymn to the Virgin. This is a triumph of engineering, of choral singing, and of conducting on the part of Charles Bruffy, a protégé of fabled American choral conductor Robert Shaw, who, like his mentor, has achieved impressive, sensuously irresistible results in a city without a deeply ingrained tradition of classical singing. Booket notes are in English, French, and German.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
3:49
2
2:43
Three Latin Motets, for chorus
3
3:39
4
2:58
5
2:34
6
3:41
Marian Pieces (2), for chorus
7
4:40
8
2:36
Liturgical Motets (3), for chorus
9
2:01
10
2:11
11
2:05
Electa, for chorus
12
3:37
13
3:48
14
3:49
15
10:00
blue highlight denotes track pick