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Music Media Review Print

So Great a Joy

December 21, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

Music by Andrew Carter, Michael Head, Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, Peter Warlock, René Atkinson, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, Alan Hovhaness, Randall Thompson, Ned Rorem, Norman Dello Joio, William Bergsma, Samuel Barber, Gordon Binkerd, James Holloway, & Trad.-arr. Kelly. Janeanne Houston, soprano, with Michael Kelly, piano & organ, & Rae Terpenning, flute, Shannon Spicciati, oboe, & Svend Rønnng, violin. Elmgrove CD, 72:10. $18 (includes shipping), available from http://www.livingmysteries.com/ (inactive 8/03).

Living Mysteries: Music by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Dan Locklair, Morten Lauridsen, Vaughan Williams, Fauré, Barber, & Finzi. Janeanne Houston, soprano, with Michael Kelly, piano [& director of chamber ensemble], Kathryn Habedank, harpsichord, Rae Terpenning, flute, Craig Rine, clarinet, & chamber ensemble. Elmgrove CD, 53:38. $18 (includes shipping), available from http://www.livingmysteries.com/ (inactive 8/03).

It's December, and for two years in a row, that's meant that it's time for another outstanding CD from soprano Jeananne Houston, currently on the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. A year ago, the first of these CDs came to the Lamberts as a holiday gift, which made it too late to include among the 2001 holiday record roundups. This is a Christmas CD, but its contents depart radically from the norm, and as a result it may be enjoyed year-round. Some of the well-known composers - Britten, Vaughan Williams, Thompson, and Barber - are represented by one (or more) familiar works, but the program includes a raft of other, rarely-heard pieces, and all are united by the beautiful voice and stunning interpretive skills of a magnificent singer and her supporting artists. There are many treasures here, and although everything was composed in the 20th century, the music, as befits the texts (included in the booklet), is by and large restrained. For a decidedly different Christmas CD that will surely inspire repeat listenings, this is highly recommended.

The second CD, made in 2002, showcases Houston in still more sacred and seasonal fare. Arias by Bach (from Cantata 52), Haydn (from The Creation ), and Mozart (from the Great Mass in C Minor) set the stage, artistically and spiritually, too, for the world premiere recording of WFU-based Dan Locklair's Three Nativity Songs (1978), for soprano and string quartet. A solo-voice and piano version of Morten Lauridsen's ubiquitous "O Magnum Mysterium," published in 1999, casts new light on one of the most sublime choral works of the 20th century. Houston, Kelly, and Terpenning then deliver a performance of Frank Martin's Trois Chants de Noël that will allow older collectors to retire their 1966 Lp featuring Elly Ameling (with the composer himself) - this new reading is that good. Three autumnal vocalises by Vaughan Williams for soprano and clarinet are virtually unknown, and Fauré's "En prière" is one of that master's few songs without an opus number. The CD ends with Barber's "Lord Jesus Christ," from the Prayers of Kirkegaard, and a selection from Finzi's Dies Natalis, which happens to be, basically, a Baroque cantata in modern guise. This serves as a wonderful cap for this program, which begins with Bach, and it concurrently links both of these CDs as well, since two other excerpts from Finzi's exceptional work appear in the earlier release. What Houston has not recorded from the Finzi, as of now, are the Intrada and Rhapsody, so we can hope that there will eventually be a third CD from this singer that will include those missing sections and much, much more, as well.

North Carolina readers may be particularly interested in Locklair's early songs, since he is based in Winston-Salem; his many contributions to our cultural lives here include service last summer as Composer-in-Residence at Brevard, for details of which, see our feature archives. Triangle readers with long memories may also recall Kelly, who was educated at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he was a student of the late, great William S. Newman.

In closing, these CDs probably would never have been made, back in the era when big recording companies controlled artists and repertoire with iron fists. Music lovers, artists, and composers all benefit from the sea-change in the industry represented by these releases, and it is the hope of this writer that Houston's efforts will be rewarded with good sales. Check the website listed in the headnotes for ordering information.