Monday, October 26, 2015

Quire Cleveland. The Land of Harmony

Quire Cleveland. The Land of Harmony: American Choral Gems from the Bay Psalm Book to Amy Beach.  Quire Cleveland, 2014.  
When the Editor asked me to review this CD, I balked a bit. My experience with Quire Cleveland involves, as stated on their website, music from “distant lands and ages past,” and this collection is certainly a different direction for them. However after listening to this album several times, I was captivated. They have brought to life songs that many may have either heard of or have heard and forgotten. This elegant and lovely collection of American songs dating from 1640-1920 begins with the “Star-Spangled Banner,” to which some of us would irreverently say, “ho-hum.” But this is a rousing version sung as it would have been in 1815, with all the verses. Listen closely to the third verse since it is hardly ever heard. While the “Banner” is not my favourite patriotic song (“Het Wilhemus,” the Dutch national anthem, remains in my heart), I found this rendition far exceeded the usual version. Rather than being overly dramatic, Quire Cleveland makes it a very special piece; smooth, flowing, and tuneful.

I won’t mention each selection, but will assure the reader that the variety will not disappoint--sacred songs, love songs, and whimsical pieces abound. Stephen Foster is undoubtedly the most well known composer in this group. As for title recognition, anyone who hasn’t heard “Amazing Grace” has probably never listened to radio or television, as everyone from Garrison Keillor to Arlo Guthrie has sung it. Poetry lovers will recall Robert Burns in “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton,” while church choir members will remember singing “When Jesus Wep’t,” a haunting choral round. I thought the parlour songs were especially captivating, even though not one of them was familiar to me.

Whether Biblical, patriotic, or parlour, it seems remarkable that one group of musicians can be so versatile. This was recorded in concert in 2014 at Historic St. Peter Church in Cleveland, but I have not heard of a repeat of this repertoire since then. If you want to hear this program, you will have to settle for the CD for now.

Personnel:  Quire Cleveland, Ross W. Duffin, artistic director.
Tracks:  Star-Spangled Banner (1814) (John Stafford Smith, arr. R. Duffin), Psalm 98 (1640) (Thomas Ravenscroft), Psalm 23 (1698)(John Playford), The Lord Descended (1761) (James Lyon), When Jesus Wep’t (1770) (William Billings), The Dying Christian’s Last Farewell (1794) (William Billings), I Am the Rose of Sharon (1778) (William Billings), Down Steers the Bass (1786) (Daniel Reed), Modern Music (1781) (William Billings), O Look to Golgotha (1843) (Lowell Mason), Amazing Grace (1847) (arr. William Walker), Flow Gently, Sweet Afton (1857) (J. E. Spilman, arr. J. S. Warren), Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming (1855) (Stephen Foster), Hymn of Peace (1869) (O. W. Holmes, Matthias Keller), Minuet (1903) (Patty Stair), Through the House Give Glimmering Light (1897) (Amy Beach), So Sweet Is She (1916) (Patty Stair), The Witch (1898) (Edward MacDowell, writing as Edgar Thorn), Don’t Be Weary, Traveler (1920) (R. Nathaniel Dett), Hymn to Music (1877) (Dudley Buck).

Dietlinde Klaas

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