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Positive Feedback ISSUE 24
march/april 2006


Acapella Music
by Karl Lozier


Copland, Motets/Durufle, Gregorian Motets/Tavener, Song for Athene/Vaughan Williams, Mass for Double Choir/Messian and Tallis, Osacrum convivium. Chamber Chorus of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Norman Mackenzie, director (Telarc CD 80654/SACD 60654)

While the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is credited here, these works are performed a capella, which means there is no orchestral accompaniment. The Copland motets are from his very early years, when he was still a student. Vaughan William's Mass for Double Choir, the longest composition on this release, is not particularly well known. The best-known composition on the disc is Tavener's Song for Athene, written in memory of Athene Hariades, who died tragically in 1993. The piece gained worldwide recognition when it was the last song played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Its text was partly taken from Shakespeare's Hamlet. In my opinion, this Telarc release is not an ideal introduction to a capella music making, but it will appeal to aficionados, as many of the selections are hard to find.

Record companies often use the Durufle motets featured on this disc as filler for his well-known Requiem. Motets, which came into being hundreds of years ago and are still a standard form of liturgical music, are sacred Latin songs, usually based on Biblical texts, in which other voices are moved in counterpoint (think contrast) to the main tune. Do not let the title of the pieces deceive you into thinking that you will hear Gregorian chants. Gregorian chants (often referred to as Gregorian plainsongs) have unadorned melodic lines.

As expected, the performances are quite excellent, as is the sound, for the most part. The ambience of the recording venue, an Episcopal cathedral in Atlanta, Georgia, is clearly apparent from the beginning measures, but in some of the loudest passages, where the sopranos are going all out, something disturbing creeps in. I have occasionally been fooled by reverberations from reflective surfaces in the recording venue, which cause harsh-sounding peaks and valleys that could also be due to microphone overload. In the hope that he could shed some light on the problem, I contacted Michael Bishop, the engineer who did the mixing and mastering of this release, but have not received an answer.