by Karl Nehring
Tractus. Arvo Pärt: Littlemore Tractus; Greater Antiphons I-VII; Cantique des degrés; Sequentia; L’abbé Agathon;These Words…; Veni creator; Vater unser. Maria Listra, soprano; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Tönu Kaljuste, conductor. ECM New Series 2800 485 9166
Tractus extends the line of Arvo Pärt albums on the ECM label that began with Tabula rasa in 1984, the recording which first brought Pärt’s music to widespread awareness. I was in graduate school back then, working weekends as a security guard at a factory. Late one night as I drove from the main plant to check on an off-site location while listening to classical music on WOSU-FM, they played music from that album, which featured not only classical violinist Gidon Kremer but also jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. I was transfixed by Pårt’s music, becoming an immediate fan. I purchased the CD that very week and went on to acquire dozens more over the next four decades – and have never been disappointed. This latest Pärt album, Tractus, features an emphasis on works for choir and chamber orchestra, although there are also compositions for the orchestra alone as well as one for soprano and orchestra. The texts (all of which are included in the CD booklet) are all based on scriptural, liturgical, or other traditional Christian texts. Although there are passages where the music exhibits some drama, it is for the most part reflective and inward-looking, very much in keeping with the spiritual focus of the texts. The sound quality is warm, spacious, and inviting. This is an album to treasure.
Lise Davidsen: Christmas from Norway. Adolphe Adam: O Helge natt (O Holy Night in Swedish); Humperdinck: Weihnachten; Franz Xaver Gruber/Josef Mohr: Silent Night; Gustaf Nordqvist/Edvard Evers: Jul, jul, strålande jul; Deilig er Jorden (trad. folk tune, lyrics by Bernhard Severin Ingemann); Mitt Herte Alltid Vanker (trad. folk tune, lyrics by Hans Adolph Brorson); Julvisa (No. 4 from Viisi joululaulua Op. 1 by Sibelius, lyrics by Zachris Topelius); Bach: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring (lyrics by Martin Janus); Reger: Maria Wiegenlied (lyrics by Martin Boelitz); Bach/Gounod: Ave Maria; Hugo Wolf: Schlafendes Jesuskind (lyrics by Eduard Mörike); The First Noël(trad.); John Francis Wade: O Come All Ye Faithful; Adam: O Holy Night. Lise Davidsen, soprano; Norwegian Soloists’ Choir (conductor, Simon Arlasjö); Norwegian National Opera Children’s Choir (conductor, Edle Stray-Pedersen); Norwegian Radio Orchestra; Christian Eggen, conductor. Decca 485 4358
“Christmas is how I got into music,” explains the Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen (b. 1987), one of the foremost opera stars of our day, “we listened to all kinds of music: choral music, popular music, and the Norwegian songs I sing on this album.” She remembers Christmas services at her hometown church in Stokke: “I remember getting my first solo there, and when I was older, singing O Holy Night for the first time. I was still singing it there on Christmas Eve in my late twenties, well into my career. They were happy I kept going back but for me it was an essential part of the spirit of Christmas.” She concludes her liner booklet note by remarking, “For Scandinavians, Christmas is the white light we need in the middle of a long winter. Perhaps that’s why we embrace it. And we really do embrace it.” She opens and closes the album with O Holy Night, first in Swedish and then in English – reflecting the special place that song holds in her memory of Christmas. What sets this album apart from many other Christmas albums -- beyond just the wondrous quality of Davidsen’s voice, that is – is the variety of music. This is not just your typical collection of popular carols. Moreover, the musical settings vary; some with orchestra, some with choir, some with children’s choir. Even if, like me, you already have a number of Christmas albums in your collection, you really ought to give this one serious consideration.
Miracle of Miracles: Music for Hanukkah. Trad., arr. Robert Applebaum: Oh Chanukah/Y'Mei Hachanukah; Trad., arr. Steve Barnett: S’vivon; Trad., arr. Mark Zuckerman: O, ir kleyne likhtelekh; Gerald Cohen: Chanukah Lights: Applebaum: Haneirot Halalu; Trad., arr. Elliott Z. Levine): Al HaNisim; Trad., arr. Applebaum): Al Hanisim; Joshua Fishbein: Al Hanisim (For the Miracles); Daniel Tunkel: from Hallel Cantata - I. Hal’luyah! (Psalm 113); II. B’tzeit Yisrael (Psalm 114); III. Adonai Z’charanu (Psalm 115, vv. 12-18); VI. Hodu (Psalm 118, vv. 1-4); Trad., arr. Applebaum): Maoz Tzur; Levine: Lo V’Chayil; Vladimir Heyfetz (Arr. Zuckerman): Fayer, fayer; Samuel E. Goldfarb (arr. Applebaum): Funky Dreidl (I Had a Little Dreidl); Mikhl Gelbart (Arr. Zuckerman): I am a Little Dreydl (Ikh bin a kleyner Dreydl); Jonathan M. Miller: Biy’mey Mattityahu; Chaim Parchi (arr. Joshua Jacobson): Aleih Neiri; Stacy Garrop: Lo Yisa Goy. Chicago a cappella. Cedille CDR 9000022
Over the years I have accumulated a number of Christmas recordings – so many, in fact, that a few years ago I felt compelled to cull through them, decide which one I really wanted to keep, and take the rest in for trade. I took quite a few in go the store for trade, but still have more left than I will ever play over the holidays. Some of those Christmas CDs were sent to me for review over the years – but in all my years of being a reviewer (roughly 35, counting my time at both The $ensible Sound and now at Classical Candor), I was never sent one single Hanukkah CD for review until this one recently arrived in my mailbox. Miracle of miracles indeed! But receiving this disc after all that time made me stop and wonder why I had never been sent – or even really noticed, to be honest (of course, the fact that I am not Jewish is obviously a factor) any Hanukkah CDs before. Fortunately, in the liner booklet,
a cappella is an ensemble of ten singers from among the Chicago area’s most accomplished classically trained choral singers and soloists. The group was originally founded in 1993 and has performed a wide variety of music, ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Miracle of Miracles features a collection of songs from more than 25 years of the ensemble’s performances, arranged into a single program that replays the story of Hanukkah, from celebrations of the holiday itself through to its candles, miracles, religious observances, and traditional food and games. The music and the texts include a mix of both biblical and modern Hebrew, as well as Yiddish elements (and English) intertwined with American jazz and popular styles. The vocal styles and expressions represented on this album aim to capture fully the traditions of Hanukkah across the Diaspora and Jewish history. It’s a fascinating collection. One need not be Jewish to enjoy the skill and enthusiasm that these singers bring to these remarkable songs, such as the three versions of Al Hanisim or the energetic dreydl songs, perhaps the kinds of songs that might be most likely to strike a note of familiarity with some non-Jewish listeners. The liner notes include notes and texts for all of the compositions, and the engineering by Cedille’s audio wizard Bill Maylone is excellent as always, making this a fine production in every aspect, well worth a listen regardless of your faith or lack thereof.