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Gramophone

December 2008 North America edition
Andrew Farach-Colton

Boston Secession's first recording (entitled Afterlife, a collection of German "meditations on mortality") was notable for its intelligent programming and polished performances. The 24-voice choir continues to impress with this collection of (mostly) minimalist works.

Avro Pärt's The Beatitudes has been recorded numerous times, including an especially fine version by the Polyphony under Stephen Layton (Hyperion, 8/98). But Boston Secession holds its own. The ensemble's tone is lovely, well blended and balanced, and director Jane Ring Frank gives strong shape to the music moving the phrases steadily towards a glorious, full-throated climax and Heinrich Christensen's mesmeric organ solo. Gavin Bryar's elegiac homage to Immanuel Kant is also sensitively done with lovely, gentle accents on the aching dissonances.

William Duckworth's Southern Harmony (1981) was inspired by the rural American tradition of "shape note" singing (at the end of the disc we are treated to a few feverently sung samples of the original hymns as taken from an 1835 publication by William Walker). Duckworth gives these folksy tunes myriad expressive and sometimes playful twists. The Gregg Smith Singers bring greater rhythmic variety to their recording of the complete work (Lovely Music), but I like how Frank underscores the ruminative aspect of Duckworth's masterful score.

I'm much less taken with Ruth Lomon's Transport (there is a typo where it is called Transfer in the article base - but listed correctly in the track listing), a six-minute excerpt of an oratorio based on Holocaust poetry. Lomon is a decent craftsman it seems, but I feel her music doesn't successfully amplify the text's harrowing emotional power. It's a relatively small blemish on an otherwise impressive programme. The recorded sound is clear and pleasingly atmospheric. Warmly recommended.


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