Review of Higdon: Singing Rooms CD

12.01.10
Jennifer Koh
BBC Music Magazine

By Howard Goldstein

Higdon • Singleton
Higdon: The Singing Rooms; Singleton: Praisemaker; Scriabin: Poem of Ecstasy
Jennifer Koh (violin); Atlanta Chorus & SO/Robert Spano
Telarc CD-80721 78:55 mins
BBC Music Direct ?13.99

Robert Shaw’s legacy in Atlanta of choral excellence is evident in these two premieres of works by composers with strong connections to the city’s symphony and chorus. For The Singing Rooms, Jennifer Higdon set a group of poems by Jeanne Minahan that seemed to the composer ‘lessons in life arranged like differenct rooms within a house,’ while Alvin Singleton’s PraiseMaker sets a ‘universal, secular, and celebratory’ poem by Susan Kouguell. His language, harmonically and texturally sparse, is quite appropriate for Kouguell’s philosophical musings to whose rhythms and structures hi music is intimately wedded. Higdon, however, often lets the poems take a backseat to the concerto-like solo violin part (beautifully played by Jennifer Koh), resulting in a lavishness of musical gesture occasionally at odds with the intimate subject matter.

Scriabin’s purely orchestral poem is a fine companion here; Robert Spano focuses on forward motion and lucid textures – no mean feat in a work whose essentially static nature can often sag. I prefer the riper sound and finely judged flexibility of pulse Valery Gergiev offers (on Philips), but I also appreciate how Spano’s crisper approach places the Russian more in the European mainstream of Debussy and early Schoenberg.

Performance ****
Recording *****