AOM Logo April 1999


Psalms

The Turtle Creek Chorale
Timothy Seelig, cond.


Reference Recordings RR86


David Aspinall

Cover Image

First, let me extend an appropriate hosanna to the professionalism of conductor, Timothy Seelig. Second, let me pay deserved kudos to RR's recording team, which has acquitted itself with by-now-taken-for-granted excellence.

Now to the bottom line. I must declare my aversion to most modern Christian music. I thought this superbly produced CD might have changed my mind. Sadly, neither the professionalism of the direction nor the quality of its recording has changed my opinion a single iota (I suppose that should be Hebrew yod, not Greek iota, in this context).

So that readers won't get the wrong idea, let me say I have a definite fondness for sacred music. It's the bland, anemic anti-music that makes up most of this disc that leaves me cold. No, worse than cold. Mad! For where this kind of stuff flourishes, the great heritage that is the Western tradition of sacred music must wither.

What's the matter with it? Well, to paraphrase the great literary critic Dwight MacDonald (in greeting the revised English Bibles four decades ago) - When you gain temporal relevance, you lose eternal resonance. Where, in the past, the church led the way in aesthetic areas, now it follows, like a puppy eager to get your attention. On this disc, which, I presume represents the best of modern psalm settings, we get the most elevated religious sentiments ever set to poetic metre, matched with musical sop not more inspired than a typical 70s TV score. Tired, trite, cliché, and not at all helped by the choice of a bloodless, all-male choir, which cannot even summon the passion with which gospel artists frequently transcend their often commonplace materials.

To end on a positive note, let me recommend, from my LP collection, some composers who have set the Psalms to music worthy of their dignity and grandeur: Brahms, Bruckner, Elgar, Hanson, Ives, Liszt, Meyerbeer, Penderecki, Schmitt, Spohr, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams. I have no objection to new settings. However, let them aspire to these heights, not be content with the soft-brained, synthetic pseudo-religion of a 'God' who, rather than create, imitates the worst of secular culture.

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