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CD Review

Give Me Jesus

Barbara Hendricks Sings Spirituals

Barbara Hendricks, soprano
The Moses Hogan Singers
EMI Classics CDC 56788 DDD 63:55
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If you've ever sung in an amateur choir, chances are you've sung a Moses Hogan arrangement. (I've sung plenty.) Hogan was born in 1957 in New Orleans, and he has distinguished himself as a pianist (he won the Kosciuszko Foundation Chopin Competition) and as a choral conductor and arranger. His interesting arrangements never obscure the simple beauty of the source material, yet they give choristers ample room to stretch their techniques and their expressive powers, to say nothing of their voices.

This CD is a collection of 21 traditional African-American spirituals, all but six of them arranged by Hogan. Most of your favorites are here, from upbeat numbers such as "The Battle of Jericho" and "Old Time Religion" to songs whose intense stillness stops time, including "Steal Away." All but five are sung by Hendricks and the Moses Hogan Singers together; Hendricks does four solos, and the chorus does "The Battle of Jericho" by itself. The latter spiritual is one of the disc's highlights, and if I have any (minor) complaints about this CD, it's that I would have liked to hear more of the chorus. When they and Miss Hendricks sing together, the balance unduly favors the soprano. Her voice no longer has the velvety warmth that it had more than 15 years ago in her recital of spirituals with pianist Dmitri Alexeev. Nevertheless, it still is a beautiful instrument, but one whose merits would have been even easier to appreciate had they been given out more sparingly on this recording. The good news is that her interpretations are about as ego-free as they can be, given this recital's format, and they shine with honest devotion. The Moses Hogan Singers perform with impressive control, no more so than in the introspective numbers, where they prove the old choral dictum that many can sing more quietly than one. There's no doubt about their commitment as well. Give Me Jesus, if this is possible, is the sort of CD that makes you a little better every time that you hear it. Whether you're a Christian or a chorister, it sets a blessedly good example.

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle