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Using erotic imagery to describe his religious devotion may have enraged the fellow monks of St. John of the Cross, but such language has certainly inspired vivid and colourful music. The Saint Louis Chamber Chorus, one of America's most established choirs, presents premier recordings of his poems set to music by Carlos Surinach, a longtime collaborator of choreographer Martha Graham. These are contrasted with versions by Geoffrey Burgon, Alan Ridout, Clare Maclean and Sasha Johnson Manning. Such intense pieces are complemented by motets from a Renaissance contemporary of the saint, Tomás Luis de Victoria, who like St. John also hailed from the Spanish city of Avila.


This disc is accompanied by a booklet containing both texts and translations, together with an informative article by the Chorus's conductor, Philip Barnes. The recording was made in St. Margaret of Scotland Church in St. Louis in May 2004, and the disc was produced by Guild Music of Switzerland. All pieces are scored for SATB choir (with divisi) unless otherwise noted.

Release date: February 13, 2005

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For sound samples of selected tracks, click on the play button in front of the title to hear the first 45 seconds of the piece.



1. Noche oscura del alma (Canciones del alma, 1) — Carlos Surinach (1915-1997)*


2. Iste Sanctus — Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611)


3. O Flame of Love So Living — Alan Ridout (1934-1996)*


4. Llama de amor viva (Canciones del alma, 2) — Carlos Surinach*


5. Senex Puerum Portabat — Tomás Luis de Victoria


6. Romança VI — Sasha Johnson Manning (b. 1963) (SSAATTBB)*


7. Aunque es de Noche — Clare Maclean (b. 1958) (SSAATTBB)*


8. But Have Been Found Again — Geoffrey Burgon (b. 1941) (SSAATTBB)*


9. Delerio del alma (Canciones del alma, 3) — Carlos Surinach*


10. O Quam Gloriosum — Tomás Luis de Victoria


11. An den Geist — Carl Rütti (b. 1949) (SSAATTBB)


12. Beati Immaculati — Tomás Luis de Victoria


13. Gozo a la fé (Canciones del alma, 4) — Carlos Surinach*


* World première recording on CD

CD Reviews

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (February 13, 2005)

Chamber Chorus records "soul" music

Soul music: The St. Louis Chamber Chorus has a new recording, on sale beginning this weekend. It's "Songs of the Soul," based on the poetry of St. John of the Cross. In a departure, it's on the Guild label (Guild GMCD 7272) and will be distributed worldwide. St. John, a child of the Counter-Reformation and a friend of St. Teresa of Avila, gave his superiors fits with his passionate poetry. But it's gorgeous, affecting stuff that has inspired composers - not of his own time, the 16th century, but of our own. And it is given beautiful, heartfelt performances in the new recording. Last February, the Chamber Chorus offered a concert of those settings at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. In May, they recorded that music for this disc at St. Margaret of Scotland Roman Catholic Church in St. Louis.


"I thought it was time" to step outside the self-made, self-distributed recording box, says artistic director Philip Barnes, "and the board was very supportive about it. We'd already made seven recordings, and we thought the choir was now ready to represent itself and the city on a broader stage. We're not likely to be doing tours, so the only way we can get our sound out is through recordings." It helped that they had "an unusual repertoire idea," he observes. "We pinned it all around Spain and St. John of the Cross," which should win them a wider audience with interests in one or the other. The choice of composers further widens the potential audience pool: Carlos Surinach (1915-1997), whose settings of the poet's four "Canciones del alma" are the framework on which the rest of the recording rests, "has associations with Martha Graham and the Joffrey Ballet. "Composers Alan Ridout and Geoffrey Burgon both have loyal followings in the musical world, and younger composers like Sasha Johnson Manning and Clare Maclean are building followings of their own.


"Songs of the Soul" has no fewer than eight world-premiere recordings out of 13 cuts, and Barnes says that it's possible that this is the first recording of Victoria's "Beati Immaculati." Both the contemporary works and the Victoria are sung idiomatically and with clarity and feeling. The sound is clean and pure. At St. Margaret of Scotland, says Barnes, "we finally found a room that's perfect for our sound, and they were incredibly nice to us." Making the recording, over three stormy days in late May was "a nightmare; there were tornadoes, rain and hail - and on the third night, the church was flooded." Barnes persuaded church officials to hold off on pumping, so the recording could be completed on schedule.


The Chamber Chorus was also fortunate in its producer, Briton Chris Craker. "He's an enormously big name in commercial recording," points out Barnes. "His resume runs to over 400 commercial CDs," including recordings for the Naxos, Decca and EMI labels. [Sarah Bryan Miller, Post-Dispatch Classical Music Critic]

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