Here's a fine collection of contemporary American choral music, centered but not exclusively devoted to music of the San Francisco Bay area, and testifying to the continuing vitality of the choral scene in that area and in the U.S. as a whole. The San Francisco choir Volti offers music ranging from straightforward (Stacy Garrop's settings of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Aaron Jay Kernis' Ecstatic Meditations) to fairly experimental (Mark Winges' Open the Book of What Happened, with its nicely executed high vocal slides). But extremes of simplicity and solipsism are both avoided, and the choir's clear, well-balanced sound is pleasing in itself. Volti manages to do what few groups on the other U.S. coast have succeeded in doing: they assemble a program in which academic composers and independents not only coexist but complement each other. The key is the variety of poetry involved, with authors from the medieval nun Mechthild of Magdeburg to contemporary writers; there is also a traditional Peruvian religious text, set by Gabriela Lena Frank, with a Spanish-Quechua text. Frank and several other composers offer their own English translations of the texts in the booklet, and all the music seems to have begun with a text close to the composer's heart. Highlights include Kurt Rohde's detailed settings of epigrammatic poems by Jakob Stein; sample track 10, in which the words "Love's lens, how can one see without it" are broken down as it were into individual rays. There's not a "safe" work on the disc, or one in which you feel the composer to have been less than fully involved. The disc was recorded over several years, at a variety of Bay Area churches, but it feels like a single entity, which also suggests that something unusual is happening here.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Open the Book of What Happened|
|Sonnets of Beauty and Music|