Mosher: 31 Chorales (CD review)

Rob Mosher, soprano sax; Micah Killion, trumpet; Peter Hess, bass clarinet; Nathan Turner, tuba. Rob Mosher.com.

The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music defines a chorale as “a hymn tune of the German Protestant Church. Martin Luther, an accomplished musician himself, considered the chorale a pillar of his reform movement and played a very active part in building a suitable repertory of texts and melodies. The chorale harmonizations of J.S. Bach continue to be used widely and are regarded as models for the writing of tonal harmony in four parts.”

It is the latter segment of the definition that composer and saxophonist Rob Mosher says inspired him to write the thirty-one chorales in this album. Mosher’s official bio explains that he is a “melodic, lyrical composer and performer...a musician well versed in the jazz and classical worlds, committed to furthering the growth and combination of the two. Specializing on soprano sax, English horn and oboe, Mosher is a proven creator with a uniqueness of voice and an interest in exploring genre fluidity.” To celebrate his thirty-first birthday, Mosher decided to compose thirty-one chorales in thirty-one days, the results of which we hear on the disc, interspersed with a half dozen other pieces, thirty-seven tracks in all. It’s an ambitious project, to be sure, and one that in large measure succeeds.

Each of Mosher’s chorales, like Bach’s, is brief, most of them clocking in at two minutes or less. All the same, when you have so many of them, they tend to provide a good variety of material. He has devised four parts per work, performed by himself on soprano sax, Micah Killion on trumpet, Peter Hess on bass clarinet, and Nathan Turner on tuba. They combine to provide something like the sonority of a church organ, appropriate in keeping with the Bach theme. The tunes are mostly melodious, harmonious, and sometimes playful.

If there is any hesitation in my appreciation for these pieces, it is that there are stretches where the music begins to sound rather dirgelike and the same, occasionally lacking in ultimate spirit or invention. Then, just when you think perhaps you’re in for seventy minutes of pleasant tedium, along comes something like Chorale No. 5 or March March, which verge on humorous parody and are kind of fun after the solemnity of the first numbers.

From here, you’ll begin to hear bits and pieces of familiar tunes among the thoroughly original works, as though Mosher were taking a cue from Charles Ives. Then he falls back on a sort of sameness of spirit that again becomes a little tiresome. Still, it’s the kind of adventure I wish more composers would attempt.

Choral No. 9 is especially lovely; and the Prelude in C minor makes a nice change of pace, with its lilting grace and prominent trumpet solo. With Chorale No. 16 Mosher reminds us of the Christmas season; with Wagon Wheels the way West; and so on. A little something for everyone, including a particularly clever Wondersong, thumbs up! The program ends on a quiet note, almost a lullaby.  Nicely done.

Recorded in March of 2011 at the Episcopal Church of Saint Mary-in-the-Highlands, Cold Spring, New York, the sound is close, full, and lightly resonant. The recording captures well the inherently mellow richness of the four instruments, turning them almost into one, given their similar tonal qualities. There is a degree of soft warmth about the sound that probably will not satisfy every audiophile, but it seems in keeping with the music and the nature of the performances.

I understand Mosher initially released these chorales one at a time on the Web, and he is now making them available separately or together as a download or on a CD at iTunes, Amazon, and the like. You can learn more at Mosher’s Web site: http://robmosher.com/.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa