Classical Stories
11:00 am
Tue December 7, 2010

Mark Pinto Recommends...


Dave Brubeck: Sacred Choral Works - Songs of Praise

WRTI's New Releases host reviews a new classical CD from a jazz legend!

Jazz improvisation is a prominent feature of some of Dave Brubeck's early choral works, but it's his mastery of counterpoint that is on display in the fervent and complex pieces recorded on Songs of Praise. This disc of Brubeck's sacred choral works, some of which receive their world-premiere recordings, offers much to chew on, so to speak, and definitely much to appreciate. Read More...

The year 2009 was a milestone year for the beloved pianist and composer. Honored by the Kennedy Center for excellence in the performing arts, Brubeck also lived to see his breakthrough recording, Time Out, celebrate its 50th anniversary. This year, on December 6th, Brubeck reaches another milestone as he turns 90 years young. Despite some recent health concerns, he has kept up a busy schedule of performances and composing.

An important, but often overlooked, facet of this esteemed musician is his career as a composer of classical music. More specifically, the composer of sacred Christian choral works, such as the oratorio The Light in the Wilderness and the anthem Upon this Rock, - pieces Brubeck himself has called "his greatest musical accomplishments."

In the late 1940s, Brubeck studied composition at Mills College under Darius Milhaud, who grounded his students on Bach chorales, counterpoint, and fugues, while still encouraging Brubeck to incorporate elements of jazz into his compositions.

Jazz improvisation is a prominent feature of some of Brubeck's early choral works, but it's his mastery of counterpoint that is on display in the fervent and complex pieces recorded on Songs of Praise. This disc of Brubeck's sacred choral works, some of which receive their world premiere recordings, offers much to chew on, so to speak, and definitely much to appreciate.

The Pacific Mozart Ensemble, a San Francisco-based choral group, performs this direct, often dissonant, but always devotional music with much conviction. They successfully navigate Brubeck's polyphonic and polyrhythmic writing, which employs fugues with abandon.
The centerpiece of this recording is the Canticles, three hymns to the Virgin Mary for chorus with string quartet accompaniment that incorporate Latin chant as well as English texts in a modern harmonic language. Alternately declamatory and plaintive, Canticles features a beautiful lullaby for solo soprano in the middle movement, which celebrates the nativity of Jesus.

Fugues and chant-based melodies also appear in Brubeck's fascinating completion of the Credo from Mozart's "Great" C minor mass. Fueled by his experiences as a soldier in World War II, the a cappella anthem The Commandments uses fugue to give added urgency to each of God's prescriptions, with particular stress on the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."

Lightening the mood a bit are four short Christmas pieces, which include a cradle song and a childlike carol about bells - gentle moments in a recording of serious music that displays an uncompromising religious conviction. It's also one that requires some concentration to fully appreciate the music's complexity. Ultimately, the listener is rewarded with a new appreciation of the genius of this deservedly honored musician.--Mark Pinto

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