sleeper's prayer: Choral Music from North America

In barely a decade of existence, Merton College’s new choral foundation has ambitiously redefined the choral landscape of the great university city of Oxford through its twin commitment to excellence & innovation.

Now, focusing entirely on American music of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, this latest in a series of thematically conceived recordings begins as a striking ‘double portrait’ of two composers who have written or arranged works especially for the choir.

David Lang’s austere choral postminimalism, informed by a background of Jewish liturgy and thought, provides a striking foil to Nico Muhly’s more richly referential approach; Muhly fell in love with the Anglican tradition as a young chorister in Rhode Island.

Two solo organ works by Muhly, and a transcription from his mentor Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha, widen the expressive gamut still further – from whimsical allusiveness to meditative calm – and are set in context alongside the more stylistically eclectic yet no less powerfully communicative sound-worlds of Libby Larsen and Abbie Betinis. Two final choral items draw on pre-existing traditions of the spiritual and the Baptist hymnal in moving demonstration of the New World’s ability to honour its past while gazing Firmly ahead.

"a fantastic disc ... this is an overview of a whole repertoire, and it gives a really enjoyable overview of what choral music is for and how wide is it's reach ... there's real precision in the singing, which Merton has in spades ... what you hear on this disc - everything is as much about exploring the colours and textures you get with a fascination with the voice as much as anything else ... there's an emulsification of different sounds on this disc that I found really engaging ... this recording is a real feat of excellence and precision"


"This recording finds a quintessentially English choir addressing North American choral music, mostly by minimalist composers, including David Lang and Philip Glass. But Muhly’s Senex puerum portabat has a deeply traditional quality even as it comes over with freshness and inventiveness. His enjoyable organ solos further the impression the disc tends to give of bad boys on their best behaviour"

"Merton's new choral foundation aimed to combine tradition with bold innovation and they pull that off here with some daring ... The Merton singers are in great voice and Merton Brass could dep for angels"

"The Merton College Choir are on top form throughout this programme and the other musicians who join them at various times perform to the same high standard. In just a few years Benjamin Nicholas has built this choir into one of the foremost collegiate choirs in the UK and this disc offers another example of their excellence in whatever music comes their way. This latest programme has been discerningly put together. The contents of Merton College discs are invariably enterprising and this latest example is no exception ... Engineer Paul Baxter is by now well versed in recording this choir in the wonderful acoustics of the Merton College Chapel. Once again, he has presented the choir – and the organ – in clear, atmospheric and expertly balanced sound which shows performers and music to optimum advantage. As usual, the quality of Delphian’s documentation is excellent."


Read the full review here

"Oxford hat nicht nur ehrwürdige Colleges und Turmspitzen, sondern auch sehr gute Chöre ... Es ist eine Freude, die sicheren und selbstbewussten jungen Stimmen zu hören. Aufgenommen in der Kapelle des Merton College, besticht der Klang durch Klarheit, strahlt aber zu- gleich Wärme aus."

"Glowing performances by the Choir of Merton College Oxford, supported by various instrumental accompaniments ... Nico Muhly’s music features prominently, a particular highlight being his A Hymn on the Nativity, its golden choral textures offset by beguiling harmonic diversions and lightly sensitive organ writing .. Tracks by the younger David Lang are equally distinctive, translating minimalism techniques to an ecclesiastical setting ... Most exciting, though, is Abbie Betinis’ iridescent Cedit, hyems for choir and solo flute, imaginatively coloured and strikingly performed"

★ ★ ★ ★

Recorded: 30 Jun - 2 July 2019, Merton Chapel

Release Date: 22 May 2020
Catalogue No: DCD34232
Total playing time: 1:03:35


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