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/.