O Sacrum Convivium / Knapp, The University Singers
When you listen to 200-300 new recordings of choral music every year, 90 percent of them sacred programs, you figure you’ve heard enough of these things to know what to expect from a given composer, choir, conductor, and record label. And then, something like this surprising new release by a choir you’ve never heard of comes along–The University Singers from the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas–and you are amazed anew, and for the next hour engulfed in an unexpectedly pleasing, moving experience.
Don’t be concerned about the tinkling bells that open the program–this kind of bell sound on recordings loses its charm after about 12 seconds–and that’s exactly how long it takes for the chorus to enter, then the organ, and from there you’re treated to a superbly programmed, expertly sung concert highlighted by many works that will not be well known but that deserve attention from church and concert choirs everywhere. Among these are two pieces centered on the same text: a prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, by Antony Baldwin (b. 1957) and Richard Allain (b. 1965); a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Philip Moore (b. 1943); David Ashley White’s Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake; and the brief yet captivating Easter Carillon by W. Leonard Beck, with its infectious organ accompaniment and festive choral exclamations.
O sacrum convivium by Robert Parker (b. 1960) and Ave Maria by Colin Mawby (b. 1936) lend a decidedly “French” character to two familiar texts, while Mawby’s God be in my head is solidly, reverentially “English cathedral”-inspired; Donald Pearson’s A Song to the Lamb is Vaughan Williams-ish sparkling and joyous. Several organ pieces are interspersed throughout the program–and all are welcome and engaging, effectively highlighting the world-class Schoenstein & Co. instrument installed at the St. Basil Chapel (an extraordinary space designed by famed architect Philip Johnson)–played with impressive imagination and skill by Yuri McCoy (I was especially moved by Raymond H. Haan’s Voluntary on “Let us break bread together”). There are also some works by the more familiar names Palestrina, Saint-Saëns, and Dupré, and these are excellent–but I would strongly recommend this for all those other pieces by those lesser-known composers–and for the outstanding choral singing throughout. I would go out of my way to hear this choir, whatever they were singing. If you’re a fan of choral music and of superior singing, do not miss this.
– ClassicsToday (David Vernier)
Catalog Number: G-49303
Composer: Anthony Baldwin, Camille Saint-Saëns, Colin Mawby, David Ashley White, Donald Pearson, Eleanor Daley, Giovanni Palestrina, Larry King, Marcel Dupré, Paul Creston, Philip Moore, Raymond Haan, Richard Allain, Robert Parker, Seth Bingham, W. Leonard Beck
Conductor: Brady Knapp
Orchestra/Ensemble: University Singers
Performer: Adrienne Copeland, Alexandra Summerour, Grace Tice, Yuri McCoy