Review by georgeflanagin November 30, 2008 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
This is early 21st century choral music, and it is a grab bag of moderately challenging "pseud-a-cappella" pieces by a young composer. It is an album that is both more and less of what it promises to be. The recording is excellent, and in the spirit of double-talk, I endorse it wholeheartedly with reservations.
I was wandering around Borders while waiting for my car to get its oil changed when I spotted this album. It met all of my criteria for an impulse buy: an SACD by an unfamiliar composer on a label known for good sonics, and a cool picture on the cover. Back in the 1970s, the final characteristic was the unifying element of my LP collection.
I listened to it first in my worst possible reference environment: the car. It sounded like it had promise, and once I returned to my home office, I put it in the true reference system while I enjoyed a cup of tea and a snack before getting back to the daily grind. I liked it well enough that I sent a few messages to friends recommending it and promising Ramesh that I would review it here.
The "songs" on this album are settings of mostly familiar poems by Dickinson, Poe, Neruda, and a couple of other writers. All except Neruda are in English. The settings date from the recent past (2005 and later), and they are performed with modest forces of Conspirare and strings divided 4, 4, 3, 3, 1. (Not too many discs list the performer names, but this one does, and I see that Bruce Williams, who roomed across the hall from me at NTSU, is the first chair viola.)
The first piece is fairly representative of O'Regan's style, at least as it is on exhibit in this album. He likes to introduce a theme, add layers of "choir" to it, and produce both conventional and non-functional harmony as he goes. Then the music drifts along for a while, and ends. There is not much easily recognized counterpoint to be found, so listeners who find Bach's cantatas to be the ideal choral works are likely to be disappointed.
With the exception of the third panel of the Triptych and brief moments in other cuts, there is not much rhythmic energy, either. The music just unfolds and refolds presenting an interesting sonic scape. I burst out laughing after first few notes of track two, which begins with the sung words "In heaven ..." If you have seen the movie /Eraserhead/, you will expect it to continue with "... everything is fine."
The back side of the album says > No kidding? O'Regan is just 30 years old, and I probably wanted to accomplish that same miracle when I was his age.
The various published reviews find great favor with this album, and have a number of musings about the profundity of the works. But, I am not quite ready to sign the petition to canonize these works or their composer. When I read excerpts such as this one from the American-Statesman, "Mesmerizing and sublime, O'Regan's music layers voices with brilliant intricacy and he deftly combines airy melodies and subtle dissonances to a powerful effect," I want to edit it to say, "O'Regan's music layers voices with intricacy and he combines airy melodies and subtle dissonances."
The venue, the well known Troy Savings Bank Music Hall of Dorian Records fame, apparently has a shower that will accommodate fifty or so people at once. It has a long decay time, and O'Regan's music makes use of the environment the same way that a Bach or Buxtehude organ chorale makes use of the cavernous spaces in which they were first played.
When it comes time to sell my QUAD ESL 988s, this is the recording I am likely to use. At least in the stereo SACD layer, the sound is presented cleverly, and it is surprisingly easy to separate the direct and reflected sounds. While it sounds just fine on my other two pairs of speakers and the Sennheiser HD650 headphones, the magic is only available with the ESLs.
I suspect half of the copies of this disc that are sold will be sold to audio shops and their regular customers. I remember in the early and mid 1980s when every shop had "Tuck and Patti" blaring in all showrooms, and just a decade ago the audiophiliacs were overplaying Diana Krall's album of standards. It is not to say that these kinds of albums are not enjoyable, but they quickly get over played.
Should you buy it?
Yes, it is a very nicely packaged example of a genre of music that shows SACD at its best. Our hearing and our brains are conditioned to pay close attention to the human voice, and these are good voices very well captured. My guess is that the surround SACD will take the hall sounds and put them where they need to be, which could make the playback experience even more satisfying.
George Flanagin, 2008
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