Wednesday, 16 September 2015

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2015)

Choral Works by OLA GJEILO
Phoenix Chorale / Charles Bruffy
Chandos 5100 / *****

It's official: the future of choral music points strongly to a return to polyphonic tonality. Atonal choral music has become passé, and unlikely to appear regularly in the programmes of the world's choirs, which are mostly amateur groups who love a good sing. The Norwegian Ola Gjeilo (born 1978) belongs to the generation of choral composers (think also Eric Whitacre and Gabriel Jackson) who embrace tonality in all its glory and are unabashed about flaunting it. Elements to be found in popular, film and gospel music appear in his compositions. These bear English titles but are based on Latin liturgical texts and have strong roots with early church music.

Listen to the opening bars of The Ground (Pleni Sunt Caeli), and one is reminded of an Abba song and then a climax of a feel good movie later on. Gjeilo makes cameos as pianist, as do the Harrington String Quartet in the kinetically charged Dark Night Of The Soul, the longest work at 13 minutes. The tenor saxophone of Ted Belledin lend an air of insouciance in Evening Prayer, which is pure easy listening. For his most representative works, listen to Northern Lights, Ubi Caritas and Unicornis Captivatur. There are five premiere recordings, and the Arizona-based professional choir is beautifully recorded. A spiritually charged and highly enjoyable listen awaits.

25th Anniversary Edition
Decca 478 8601 (CD & DVD) / *****

Twenty-five years after the fact, Decca has seen it fit to further milk the cash cow that was the first Three Tenors Concert. That was held on 7 July 1990 at the Caracalla Baths in Rome, in conjunction with the soccer World Cup. That was an once-in-a-lifetime event, with sequels in Los Angeles (1994) and Paris (1998) which failed to match in terms of sense of occasion and pure novelty. Just to give one the idea of its impact: Opera became instantly accessible, while Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Nessun Dorma became household names overnight. A downside was it gave birth to that bastard child, the pseudo-art that is known as “pop opera”.

After all, who could resist the appeal of arias like Puccini's Recondita Armonia or E Lucevan Le Stelle (both from Tosca) or popular songs like O Sole Mio, Torna A Surriento or Granada. Then there are those cheesy medleys orchestrated by Lalo Schifrin where the tenors engage in some one-upmanship, all in good fun. This Silver Anniversary Edition comprises the original best-selling CD and DVD of the entire concert with the Orchestras of Maggio Musicale of Florence and Teatro dell'Opera of Rome conducted by Zubin Mehta) and a behind-the-scenes documentary The Impossible Dream. Watch the DVD at home, pop the CD into the car stereo and then sing along. Here is a timely reminder about the powerful draw of musical spectaculars. 

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