Nico Muhly - (A) Good Understanding
No one could accuse Nico Muhly (b1981) of a lack of exuberance. As he freely acknowledges in his notes, his time as a chorister influenced him profoundly, and he is happy to absorb and reprocess bits of the sound world of Tudor music and Howells within his own vocabulary, characteristic of which is a saturatedly rich harmonic writing and, frequently, minimalist figuration. So the almost tinselly quality of Bright Mass with Canons comes as no surprise, though I am not quite sure that it is the sum of its parts. He speaks engagingly too about his preoccupation with the way words are set, and their context, and in his First Service he has created something entirely suitable to its liturgical purpose but none the less original. Certainly, the heritage of Howells and others is clearly audible, but the shimmering organ writing, haloing the choir, gives it a very particular quality.
Senex puerum portabat, for choir and brass, builds on gently pulsing verbal repetitions, before breaking into an altogether wilder second part, “Hodie Christus natus est”, ending with ecstatic polyphonic mutterings, underpinned by the brass. A Good Understanding is a striking piece of word-painting, the colour this time coming from organ and percussion. The Whitman cycle Expecting the Main Things from You adds string quartet to this ensemble, and again Muhly makes full use of the colouristic possibilities open to him to create an engaging tripartite depiction of Whitman’s vision of America. All the music receives outstandingly good performances, both precise and impassioned, from the Los Angeles Master Chorale under Grant Gershon, lovingly recorded in the Walt Disney Concert Hall.