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The Omniscient Mussel

CD Review: Surprised By Beauty

Sticklers would say the secondary part of the disc’s title is misleading, since only two of the works recorded would fit in alongside the works of Reich and company. Thirty seconds into the disc, however, it is very obvious that the first part of the title is exactly right.

Surprised By Beauty is Boston Secession’s second major CD release and it is a carefully thought out, meticulously performed sophomore effort. The choir, comprised of 25 voices, was formed in 1996 by director Jane Ring Franks and specializes in ultra-transparent, non-vibrating sound typical of Anglican church choirs.

On occasion, groups of singers have such great sound they could sing a grocery list and it would still be a worthwhile performance. On the first track, Gavin Bryers And so ended Kant’s traveling in this world, Boston Secession does nearly that. The piece is set to the speech rhythms of an account detailing philosopher Immanuel Kant’s last journey out of his house.

The Beatitudes, written by Arvo Part in 1990, was second of the two pieces that can truly be categorized as minimalist. On this track, The Secession achieves with ease the sound that most chamber choirs, professional or otherwise, merely lust after.

Ruth Lomon’s oratorio Testimony of Witnesses was the only letdown on this disc. Transport is just one movement of the piece and it suffered somewhat from being out of context. It was like coming in halfway through Siegfried and trying to get to grips with everything in seven minutes.

William Duckworth’s re-arrangements of traditional shape note songs are mesmerizing. The choir lengthened their vowels and sang a little more nasally to give the songs some colour; a nice touch. In Duckworth’s hands, the added in bits of plainchant and twiddling with the harmony don’t obscure with the melody but rather enhance it to the point that you would think the songs always sounded like that. The bonus tracks provide a glimpse into Duckworth’s source material, the 1835 hymnal Southern Harmony.

An expertly written set of notes created by Dr Robert Fink was the icing on the cake.

Recommended.


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