STYLE: Choral RATING OUR PRODUCT CODE: 94739- LABEL: ECM 4763269 FORMAT: CD Album ITEMS: 1
Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
This piece of contemporary music bridges sacred vocal composition and expressive improvisational gestures: 'Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae' by Canadian composer Peter-Anthony Togni (born 1959) is a 55-minute setting of The Old Testament prophet's lamentations featuring solo bass clarinet, mixed choir a cappella and solo soprano: the exquisitely voiced Rebecca Whelan. The piece was commissioned from the Canada Council For The Arts as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations and was given its premiere by the performers heard on this CD in 2007. Togni's idea originated in a request from bass clarinet player Jeff Reilly for a concerto in which dramatic narrative events would be enacted through the soloist's improvisations. In fact, the piece which, according to the composer, "is a direct expression of my Roman Catholic faith" conveys the story of Jeremiah's prophesies of the impending destruction of Jerusalem from the hands of the Babylonians with the choir providing the crowd scenes and the bass clarinet as the voice of Jeremiah. Frankly, when I read about this, I was far from convinced as to how this could possibly work but Jeff Reilly makes his instrument speak and the bass clarinet is a much more versatile instrument than I had realised. In places this reminds me of Andy Sheppard's saxophone playing on Joanna MacGregor's 'Deep River'. For lovers of the bass clarinet this is an essential purchase and any listener with an interest in contemporary music should be interested. The Elmer Iseler Singers are not over used on this CD but when they do sing they sing very well. The concerto's five movements mirror the structure of the five poems of the Old Testament book and the Latin texts selected by the composer are used to revisit other choral settings from Tallis and Palestrina to Ginastera and Krenek in a way that Togni compares to a film director editing a script, building on the immediacy of the story. It is a valiant attempt at re-imagining a difficult book and if the composer does not quite pull it off this remains a fascinating listen.
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