The two works Morton Feldman composed before completing this 85-minute work had "Samuel Beckett" in their titles, and, listening to this 1987 live recording, one often has the feeling that he's waiting for Godot. Unlike Beckett's characters, however, Feldman's piano, violin, viola, and cello seem to have lost all capacity for humor. The waiting is all. Even the sections' titles ("page 1 till page 6," "page 7 till page 11") suggest indeterminacy. Even the applause at the end suggests the audience wasn't sure (or happy) it was over.
Bryars found himself on the radar of serious-music-loving Christians in 1993 when his minimalist masterpiece Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet became a surprise hit. Those expecting something similar from these three works for piano and (occasional) orchestra and choir (the title composition, After Handel's Vesper, and Ramble On Cortona) won't necessarily be disappointed, but they will be surprised. Gone is the meditation-inducing repetition. Replacing it is a somber and ever-developing lyricism for which even terms like "beauty" and "grace" feel inadequate. "Majesty" gets closer. "Grandeur" closer yet.
If the name "Giya Kancheli" isn't a household word in the States, the films and specific stage productions for which Kancheli composed these 20 pieces between 1965 and 2002 are even less known. As delicately rendered, however, by Dino Saluzzi's bandoneón, Gidon Kremer's violin, and Andrei Pushkarev's vibraphone, they take on a life of their own. That some of them were originally intended to illuminate well-known texts (Shakespeare, Arthur Miller) is interesting but beside the point, which would seem to be that elegance is its own reward.
The members of Trio Mediaeval are women, but the "lady" to whom this album's title refers is Mary, as in Jesus' mother. Singing 13th- and 14th-century Latin texts serendipitously preserved in the Abbey of St. Mary's in Worcester, England, Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth, and Torunn Ø strem Ossum evoke a timelessness onto which the still time-bound Gavin Bryars, who composed "Credo" and "Benedicamus Domino," must have found it challenging to stitch "new" wineskins. But he did. And, if it weren't for the credits, you'd never know.
That one doesn't come across a cappella Mennonite choirs every day is only one reason that the 30-plus-member Oasis Chorale stands out. Another is that it's quite good, maintaining the simplicity for which the Mennonite faith is perhaps best known without sacrificing the lushness without which 30-plus-member choirs might as well be 10-or-fewer-member choirs.
The program of the Chorale's recently released fourth album, Reflections: Portraits from the Life of Christ, is telegraphed by its title. Beginning with five Christmas-themed songs (grouped under the rubric "The Beginning: Scenes of the Advent") and ending with three Millennium-themed ones ("The End: Scenes of Glory"), the album serves as a chronological soundtrack of Jesus' life. But it also serves as a primer on the history of Christocentric choral music, juxtaposing carols ("O Come, All Ye Faithful"), hymns ("Passion Chorale," a.k.a. "O Scared Head"), and spirituals ("Set Down, Servant"). It is, in other words, music for the head as well as for the heart.