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CD Review

The Pulitzer Project

Grant Park Chorus/Christopher Bell
Grant Park Orchestra/Carlos Kalmar
* World Premiere Recording
Cedille Records CDR9000125
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In the world of classical music, perhaps no idea is more overused than the idea of a "concept album", where ostensibly similar works get shoved on a disc together. Cedille though, has produced a nearly unbroken line of interesting and high quality albums that really work no matter what gets released. This is another triumph, two spectacular American choral premieres that sandwich an evergreen classic. The theme works, the program convinces, and the music shines.

The Schuman is a marvelous two-section choral work that is declamatory in nature that won the 1943 Pulitzer. It sings like a massive choral fanfare and is surely more attractive than this composers' later work. It's relative brevity and innovative choral writing makes you wonder why this is its first outing on disc. Kalmar orchestra and Bell's exceptional chorus make this somewhat thorny work accessible and exciting. It's an unquestionably strength of the small independent labels that they are willing and able to record this kind of music with passion and commitment.

Nearly everyone who cares about American music has given the Copland a try in one of its many guises. This is the familiar suite (1945 Pulitzer awarded to original suite), and between the choral works, makes a very fine disc mate. Carlos Kalmar is a very talented young conductor, and the Grant Park Orchestra has done some equally good things. While he does tend to take slower sections very slowly indeed, he never allows the work to stagnate. The strings play warmly throughout, and winds also deserve honorable mention. This piece has been treated extremely well by various conductors in the past few years, but this is a piece you should have several versions of anyways, and you'll be glad to have this one.

The Sowerby is just outstanding. As a choral singer myself, I can tell you that any well-written "canticle" is worth singing, and so is this 1946 Pulitzer winner. Cedille adds to the attraction – and you can say the same for the whole disc – with stunning sonic quality. Wholly accessible, but featuring some daring harmonics, the work impresses with a huge dynamic range and inventive orchestral accompaniment. Again, this is the Grant Park Chorus' show, and they work wonders, from the loudest outbursts down to some ravishing pianissimos. The orchestra navigates this "new" music with expert precision and intelligence. At over 32 minutes, this is a major edition to the American repertoire.

Cedille deserves all credit for this marvelous production. If you buy this for the choral works, rest assured that the Copland sounds as fine as anything on the market. If you buy this for the Copland – and there is no shame in that – you get the chance to explore two tremendous pieces that present musical America in a way you may not have expected. Whatever the case, the music-making speaks for itself. Pick this one up with total confidence.

Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman