I’ve been listening to another new CD release by American choir The Crossing and their conductor Donald Nally. It’s called Words Adorned and contains two cycles by contemporary Arab-American composers setting really beautiful 11th century Andalusian texts.
The first piece is by Kareem Roustom. It’s titled Embroidered Verses; Songs on Andalusian Poetry. The 24 voice choir is accompanied by the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble (Hanna Khoury violin and music director, Wassim Odeh oud, Hicham Chami qanun, Kinan Abou-afach cello andHafez Kotain percussion). The composition blends western and Arabic influences so there are complex harmonies, long meandering vocal lines and quarter tones combining to make something really very interesting. The texts too are varied ranging from a boisterous drinking song to evocative nature poetry and a slightly sinister challenge to war. I really enjoyed it.
Kinan Abou-Afach’s Of Nights and Solace; Fantasia on Andalusian Muwashshah Poetry also uses the choir and the takht ensemble but adds a solo singer in the Arabic style; Dalal Abu Amneh. So now we have a (usually) dominant vocal line in the classical Arabic style backed by dense harmonies, many part polyphony and, again the use of quarter tones. The overall effect is to sound more Arabic and less western, especially when the composer leaves the solo voice unaccompanied. It’s different but equally beautiful and intriguing. The texts again are wonderful. Maybe I could just quote one as an example (in translation of course. Here is Muḥammad ʿUbāda al-Qazzāz’ Sunrise.
a full moon
a morning sun
a straight young branch a beautiful scent
isn’t full isn’t clear didn’t sprout didn’t waft
it must be
that he who glimpsed, is in love
companionship is what is free of any past hope
and imagination is the loudness of a soft respiration
Plus, for a bonus there’s a well known traditional song added at the end.
I continue to be impressed by the excellence of this choir and their willingness to explore unusual repertoire and, when they can’t find it, to commission it! The other musicians on this recording are excellent too and it all comes together so well. The recording, made on December 4th, 2015 at Goodhart Hall, Bryn Mawr College, is crystal clear and nicely balanced. Notes and full texts are available on-line and presumably with the physical CD.
Words Adorned will be released on July 9th by Navona records in digital and physical form as well as on Spotify etc. For the record, I listened to downloaded .wav files of a 44.1kHz/16 bit recording.