Tuesday, February 5, 2013

CD REVIEW: OF THE VALLEY, Univ. of North Dakota


University of North Dakota Concert Choir
Dr. Joshua Bronfman, director
Doug Geston, recording engineer
CDs are available by calling the UND Bookstore at (866) 791-4888.

Track List

I am the Rose of  Sharon                  Ivo Antognini
The Spheres                                   Oal Gjeilo
Pater Noster                                   Vytausas Miskinis
Otche Nash                                    Nikolai Golovanov
Crucem Tuam Adormus, Domine          Pavel Lukaszewski
War Song                                       Shin-Ichiro Ikebe
Lux Aeterna                                    Brian Schmidt
Joshua Fir the Battle                         Edwin Fissinger
O Vos Omnes                                   Richard Burchard
Signs of the Judgment                       Mark Butler

This recent release by the UND Concert Choir under Joshua Bronfman includes music they presented in a highly successful concert at the North Central ACDA conference in Madison, WI about a year ago. I was present for that concert and was thrilled to hear this fine choir and watch Bronfman in action. I had never met him before or heard this choir, so when their program was so mind-blowing I became a big fan. I then did meet Josh there at Madison and we had a nice lunch together, at which time he was able to tell me more about the choir ( strong, highly skilled and balanced musical sections from bass on up through sopranos) and about the repertoire. I am glad that this CD documents their achievements for last school year, especially their presentation of the  striking, high-octane/high decibel War Song by Shin-Ichiro Ikebe (Japanese composer, b. 1943). War Song is the composer's version of a Maori folk song from the Cook Islands. The text is essentially about the warriors  driving the devil away. Ikebe's concert version of this song could be seen as similar to an arrangement of an African-American spiritual- ie., somewhat stylized for concert use. The piece is truly breathtaking in its energy and force, perhaps a cousin to Curse Upon Iron by the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis.

The University of North Dakota Concert Choir

Backtracking to the beginning of the CD, the first five tracks preceding the boldness of the War Song seem to create a set which explores the balance between vertical/horizontal  elements (roughly, vertical = harmony; horizontal = melodic line or lines) of contemporary choral music (well yes, Bruckner is not contemporary, but he actually sounds contemporary within this context). The more horizontal pieces in the early tracks are quite successful and not weak knockoffs of the reigning king of the horizontal approach to choral writing, namely Eric Whitacre. To me there seems to be a very interesting, gradual transition from track one through track five, as each new piece Bronfman has assembled begins to pay more attention to the horizontal world,  as is obvious when we arrive at the Bruckner. Josh may have not intended this quite so obviously as I am stating it, but it was interesting for this pair of ears to hear and notice. The singing on tracks one to five is impeccable, gorgeously tuned  and still robust- Bronfman does not fall into the trap of creating wisps of unsupported sound that some other directors do when singing some of these vertical clouds of music. By the way, the title of the CD comes from a phrase in the text of track one:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valley;
The Fissinger Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho is familiar to all choral folks, and the choir does a great job with this, adding a few touches of their own and keeping it fresh. I am glad to see Bronfman placing a spiritual on the CD- spirituals seem to have fallen strongly out of favor in the university choral performance world.

Of these first five tracks I highly favor the Pater Noster by Vytautas Miskinis (Lithunian composer,
b. 1954), a marvel of odd ostinati and shifting worlds, and the Bruckner Os Justi

Two tracks don’t really do it for me (hey, I'm the choral composer blog guy- I get to freely express my opinions here). Brian Schmidt's Lux Aeterna seems too beholden to Morten Lauridsen- too many Lauridsen-like cliches or things verging on the cliche for my liking. Burchhard's O Vos Omnes is a pretty piece- but at over seven minutes I don't feel it has enough actual material ti support it that long. My opinions aside, they still are sung well and fit well into this CD.

In summation, the singing on this CD is highly musical and displays amazing attention to detail both by the singers and the director. Only rarely do you ever realize that this is an undergraduate college ensemble, not a professional choir. Bronfman's repertoire choices are intelligent, are within the scope of this choir's ability and strengths, and also, I am sure, pushed this choir to new levels. I highly recommend this CD to anyone wishing to hear some new and new-ish choral music sung very well. Bronfman is extremely talented and a young conductor you should watch for- I predict many new and wonderful achievements from him. I would also like to single out a remarkable sound engineering job by Doug Geston- bravo!

Dr. Joshua Bronfman is Associate Professor and Director of Choral Activities at the University of North Dakota, where he directs the UND Concert Choir, Chamber Choir, and Varsity Bards. He also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in choral conducting, choral literature and choral methods. In addition to his duties at UND, he is the Artistic Director of the Grand Forks Master Chorale, a select chamber choir. In 2005 Joshua was selected as a Conducting Fellow for the Eric Ericson Masterclass in the Netherlands, where he directed the Netherlands Chamber Choir and Netherlands Radio Choir. He is an active clinician in the region, directing honor choir festivals at the middle, high school and collegiate levels. His published articles and presentations on choral music and choral music education have reached state, regional, and national audiences. In 2011-2012, Joshua led the UND Concert Choir in a performance at the North Central American Choral Directors Association Conference, sat on a panel on the teaching of undergraduate conducting at the National Collegiate Choral Association Conference, and judged the Oregon State Choir Competition.
Dr. Joshua Bronfman

Joshua studied conducting under noted conductors such as Anton Armstrong, Bruce Brown, Rodney Eichenberger, Simon Halsey, and André Thomas. Joshua received his Ph.D. in Choral Music Education and Choral Conducting at Florida State University. Joshua received his Master's degree from Oregon State University, and his Bachelor's degree from Florida State University.

No comments:

Post a Comment