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American Record Guide

Afterlife: German Choral Meditations on Mortality

CD Review
American Record Guide
Jan/Feb2006, Vol. 69 Issue 1, p. 267

The Boston Secession, founded a decade ago, is a small professional group of very high quality. Their programming, as you can see from their website, is often unusual and imaginative. This release, their first, centers around the sobering themes of mortality--which is fine, though the pieces for me don't hang together in any more significant way, and to call Brahms's Mass a meditation on mortality is something of a stretch.

The main work is Hugo Distler's Totentanz, which is constructed as a theme and variations, the variations interspersed with spoken dialog (here in English). His style was rooted in his German past, but it emerges as personal and still very fresh. Totentanz is one of Distler's most important works from the 1930s, and the Boston musicians do a wonderful job conveying the depth and pathos of his vision.

Ruth Lomon's 'Chorus of Orphans', taken from her Testimony of Witnesses, is a very somber work in a dissonant, often angular style, presented over pedal points. Edwin London's Bach Again is a concept piece: it starts with Bach's chorale tune 'Kommh, Suesser Tod' in F in Melius Christiansen's harmonization. Each singer moves "through the pitches at his or her own very slow speed, coming together only at the resting points between phrases". The result is effective enough, though many will find it gimmicky.

The chorus is a very fine one, well blended and excellently in tune. Their performances of often quite difficult music are assured and musical. Their German is good, though it's not hard to guess they're Americans! Nonetheless, I hope to hear more from this fine group.

-Jay Althouse

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