This is a rather wonderful album and will appeal both to people who like singing and choirs, and those who don’t care much about choirs but like nice music.
Clearly, with a stained glass window on the sleeve and a title like Psallite, there’s a religious theme: the sleeve notes say Psallite is an exhortation to sing for joy, and the Cor Cantiamo presents a sample of such music from the 16th century up to the present day, taking in a couple of spirituals on the way. The works are mostly based on or inspired by psalms. Some of the works were commissioned by SDG Music Foundation as part of its worldwide Psalms Project.
It’s a rich album, by which we mean that it doesn’t make for good background music; it’s too demanding. This is not light and frothy church music you’d play at Christmas, but meaty and heartfelt songs that were written to be performed for the Almighty.
The opening piece is inspired by Revelations and as awe-filled as you might expect. It was written by Ily Matthew Maniano, who is only 28. This is followed by Chantez a Dieu (Psalm 96), written by Sweelinck (1562-1621) a Renaissance motet that’s both traditional in sound but also illustrative of how traditional Maniano’s modern piece was.
Psalm 41 by Gavin Bryars (b 1943) is more mournful and a depiction of yearning, the psalm being a plea to God not only for protection from one’s enemies but also from temptation to sin (which you knew of course, as did we, and Wikipedia never came into it).
Hard Times almost strays into wistful Clannad territory, as it opens with a haunting soprano and lyrics that are more modern than biblical. It’s a good bridge into the first spiritual, By And By, a tune you’ll recognise as the narrator lays down a heavy load and repents, trying on his robe at the gates of hell. This is followed by a sudden dive back 400 years and Exultate Deo.
And there you have it, really; there’s no point listing to all the tracks. You’ve got to want to embrace the music, and family members who dislike this level of intense praise may find it a bit much, but it’s a powerful CD. If you’re a singer and want to study the technicalities, we guess there’s much to appreciate. The booklet includes all the texts.
Cor Cantiamo is a touring chamber choir in residence at Northern Illinois University, founded to promote contemporary choral music and foster new composers. The conductor is Eric A Johnson. This is out on Divine Art, dda 25133.