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CD Review

Matthew Harris

Music and Sweet Poetry

  • Two Lorca Songs
  • Las seis cuerdas
  • Crótalo
  • La Guitarra *
  • Selections from "Shakespeare Songs"
  • Full fathom five
  • Under the greenwood tree
  • Come away, come away, death
  • Blow, blow, thou winter wind
  • When daisies pied
  • Fear no more
  • Sacrum convivium
  • Ave verum corpus
  • Ave Maria
  • Vos omnes
  • Innocence & Experience
  • The Sick Rose
  • The Lamb
  • The Tiger
  • Sweet and low
  • If music and sweet poetry agree
  • i love you much (most beautiful darling)
  • Three Choruses from Tess
  • Winter is white
  • Arise
  • Come, let us chime
* Beau Bledsoe, guitar
** Robert Pherigo, piano
Kantorei of Kansas City/Chris Munce
Resonus RES10125 (KKCCD001)
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This a major release for choral fans. I've known about Matthew Harris since my college days, when our choir director programmed some of the Shakespeare Songs for his chamber choir. His diversity of styles, accessibility, and real feeling for the choral idiom continue to appeal to choirs around the world. To my knowledge, this is the first and only album on the market to feature only the works of Harris, and it effectively demonstrates the considerable skill this composer possesses.

Whether in Latin, Spanish, or English, Harris brings out individual voices with a remarkable clarity. The aforementioned Shakespeare set not only features a lovely fidelity to the original texts, but also proves harmonically challenging and quite stunning in terms of contrast and emotion. The Latin pieces are ravishing, yet not afraid to be different in terms of what we would normally expect from sacred music. There's a modern twist on the Ave verum corpus in particular that is purely in this composer's style, but also manages to retain the necessary reverence and purity that these texts demand. Conversely, the Ave Maria is a simple prayer, drawing influences from the both the minimalists and also great chanted works of the past. It doesn't try to innovate, and for that reason it proves successful. O vos omnes, the last of the four Latin pieces here, is gravely and eloquently articulated, with some unexpected harmonies and seemingly effortless poetry.

While the Spanish pieces that open the disc are on the whole less interesting, they do pay homage to the composer's skills in both percussion and guitar. The Shakespeare set is mostly splendid, really evoking the meaning of the words with some impressively felt textpainting. If parts of these pieces seem to repeat, they do, but they nevertheless remain rightly popular and deserve to be here. Most of these selections are hard to find on disc, and on the whole were intelligently chosen to illustrate the artistic creativity of the composer. The remaining works are distinguished examples of great choral writing and singing. To his credit, the composer maintains a highly individual voice throughout the program, and one never feels that the works here become Lauridsen or Whitacre knockoffs. I have nothing against artists who create harmonically beautiful works that imitate our finest choral composers working today, but isn't it even better to just be one of the finest choral composers working today?

Harris has the good fortune – like those other greats mentioned – to have a really fine choral ensemble willing to champion his works. Kantorei of Kansas City is a choir formed in the last decade to bring new and exciting choral experiences to the American mid-west. They are succeeding. While the acoustic – at a local church – occasionally buries the admirable articulation of the singers at high speeds, there is no denying the tremendous talent on display here. Credit Chris Munce for assembling such a fine group of musicians, who clearly enjoy the challenge of new music. The liner notes are by Harris himself, and he was clearly close at hand throughout the project. If you care at all about choral music, you need to hear this. A final note; the tracks can be downloaded, but the Three Choruses from Tess are only to be had with the hard copy. One way or another, be sure that you pick this up.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman