Various: Beyond All Mortal Dreams (CD Review -, 2011)

Is there a contemporary American choral music sound? A growing number of American composers have banded around a style based on rich harmonies, luxurious textures and a spare expressive ethos.

Led by figures like Eric Whitacre and Stephen Paulus, these composers have arisen from a nexus of skilled American choirs, largely outside the realm of academic modernism or downtown styles. They have begun to make an impact globally too, as demonstrated in "Beyond All Mortal Dreams," a new recording of American choral music by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge under the direction of Stephen Layton.

One of the UK's leading mixed-voice choirs, this 34-voice ensemble is known for its longstanding advocacy of British music. In recent times, a certain competitiveness has built up between American and British choirs, and battle lines have been sharply drawn. The Choir of Trinity College is having none of it. This collection features a wide cross-section of 14 works by eight composers born or based in the U.S. (including one Canadian).

The most recognizable name to mainstream concert audiences here is Steven Stucky, the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer for composition. His Three New Motets 'in memoriam Thomas Tallis' pays tribute to the Renaissance luminary in quiet, radiant fashion. Latin texts are also featured in Frank Ferko’s Hildegard Triptych, an ethereal homage to the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Paulus is represented with three pieces including The day is done, a sweeping score based on a poem by Henry Longfellow. Rene Clausen (b 1953) contributes his ecstatic contemplation of a sunset at sea in Tonight, Eternity Alone while Healey Willan's (1880-1968) sublime I beheld her, beautiful as a dove is the standout example of an earlier era.

Conspicuously absent here is the aforementioned Eric Whitacre. Nevertheless, the collection offers a fine introduction to many lesser-known composers who are taking choral music in compelling new directions.

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