Wondrous Love

Wondrous Love

(Rounder Records, 2003), 40 mins

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Field of Interest
American Music
Content Type
Music recording
40 mins
Sub Genre
Bluegrass Gospel
Rounder Records
Release Date
This album of unaccompanied choral music by the Choir of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City looks like a sampler from the outside, but the notes reveal a fairly specific program, which can be interpreted either as "Christ's persecution and suffering intermingled with his concession to {%God}'s will with his redeeming final transformation into pure Love" or, "on a humanistic plane...despair and lamenting giving way to a faint-but-growing hope of salvation, and arrival at a new destination, with an evolved perspective." The theological perspectives of some of the pieces are discussed in some detail, while others are only incidentally connected to the main narrative: Pérotin's Sederunt principes four-part organum is included only because it was intended for St. Stephen's Day, St. Stephen having more directly to do with the interpretation attached to the previous piece. Those for whom choral music serves as an adjunct to actual private worship may find this program useful; it's certainly unusual for a disc consisting of choral music in the classical tradition. As the inclusion of both Pérotin and the title-track Wondrous Love (from the American Sacred Harp folk choral tradition) might suggest, however, the most unusual aspect of this disc is the variety of music woven together into a single sequence. The norm with programs showcasing a single choir is to segment them chronologically, with Renaissance motets at the opening, perhaps a Bach section and some modern works, and then a rousing African-American spiritual or two to close things out. Wondrous Love boldly asserts the unity of a tradition starting with plainchant and running through the medieval (Pérotin), Renaissance (Tallis, Praetorius, Gesualdo), and Baroque (Bach) eras, through classic black and white American hymnody and up to modern times. And the album insists on the relevance of this entire tradition to modern worship. Selection is artfully done so that works flow naturally from one to another. The African-American spiritual tradition is represented, for example, by the fascinatingly linear, freely shaped arrangement of Motherless Child by Adolphus Hailstork, rather than by one of the more familiar arrangements using blues or jazz extended harmonies. And Gesualdo's O vos omnes, not as commonly performed as other short Renaissance sacred works, seems to fit right in with the more chromatic modern compositions; it shares the typical chromatic harmonies of the composer's madrigals. There are a few stretches on the album where momentum flags. There are sweeter performances of Bach's Komm, Jesu, komm delivered here. And several of the pieces specially commissioned for the choir suffer from a sameness of idiom. More successful are the modern works unconnected with the choir: Scottish composer James MacMillan offers a shimmering, mystical setting of the usually triumphant Christus Vincit text, and the final arrangement of the old American gospel hymn Blessed Assurance by Nancy Wertsch is both innovative and ecstatic. This is a choir that is doing much more than going through the motions. MSR deals unusually well with the challenges of the St. Ignatius Loyola space; everything stays clear, and the words of the singers are consistently intelligible. ~ James Manheim, All Music Guide
American Music, Music & Performing Arts, American Studies, Bluegrass Music, Bluegrass
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