The critically acclaimed, Arizona-based Phoenix Chorale (formerly Phoenix Bach Choir) originally focused on music of the Renaissance and baroque periods, but today is equally dedicated to the creation and performance of new music. On this disc the Choir performs choral works, and settings of sacred texts by the Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo.
When he first heard Gjeilo's Ubi caritas, Charles Bruffy was instantly hooked, finding the music refreshing and magnetic . Bruffy brought Gjeilo's music to the Chorale and its audiences, and the response was immediate. Soon after, Gjeilo was invited to be the Chorale's first Composer-in-Residence.
Phoenix, a setting of the Agnus Dei, is dedicated to Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale in honour of its fiftieth anniversary. When Gjeilo first visited the choir in Arizona, he had never been to the desert before, and the 'quiet beauty and barrenness of the landscape' moved him deeply. He describes Phoenix as 'symphonic in nature... one of those pieces where the text is very much the servant of the music, not the other way around'.
In contrast, Northern Lights takes its inspiration from Gjeilo's homeland, Norway, and the 'terrible beauty' of the natural phenomenon that may be observed there. The music reflects the powerful and electric quality of the northern lights, which must have seemed both mesmerising and terrifying to people in the past when no one knew what they were, and superstition prevailed.
The Phoenix Chorale made its first appearance on Chandos in 2004 with Shakespeare in Song. Since then it has released several joint recordings with its sister choir, the Kansas Chorale, featuring among others Alexander Grechaninov's Passion Week, the disc nominated for a Grammy in no fewer than four categories, including Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance, winning in the Best Engineered and Classical album categories.
Produced by 2013 GRAMMY Award winner for Producer of the Year, Classical, Blanton Alspaugh --National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, 2013
Despite the rather obvious association with the aurora borealis, one
of the most spectacular natural settings in the world, the title
Northern Lights has a specifically religious connotation, as indeed do
all the pieces on this disc. It is in effect a religious album though
you would not know it by Chandos's clever masking of that fact, making
it look more like a typical Norwegian album devoted to the cold and
beautiful clime of that country. Ola Gjeilo is a profoundly religious
man if we are to take the texts seriously, coming as excerpts from his
Sunrise Mass to St. Augustine, to John of the Cross. In that regard he
fits right into the James Macmillan scheme of things, yet his music is
a far cry from the acerbic struggles of that wonderful composer. Even
Eric Whitacre's densely packed dissonances hail from a distance
Gjeilo's basically diatonic and melody-driven compositions, making for
a quaint and sometimes ingenious combination of Slavic feeling set in
the mode of someone like Daniel Pinkham. But even his occasional
flirtations with mixed meter are not to be taken any more seriously
than that given in a song like 'All You Need is Love' - the rhythm is
established and that is that, no confusion needed. . . I can't
imagine any music lover not being enchanted with this superbly sung
album, recorded in spacious Super Audio sound that is simply riveting.
Highly recommended! --Audiophile Audition, Steven Ritter