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Hallelujah - Gospels and Spirituals for mixed choir
Europäischer Kammerchor/Michael Reif
Stephen Görg (piano)
rec. 2018, Ev. Kirche Köln-Rondorf, Germany
CARUS 2.104/99 [43.38]

Perhaps this is the CD you have been looking for: fifteen twentieth century arrangements of mostly well-known and popular spirituals, none of which would ‘scare the horses’ and offering an opening into this popular world without too much razzmatazz. The performances can, at times, be almost clinical but on several tracks the choir responds to the more passionate and determined urgings of the conductor.

It may seem a little unusual to have a German choir of about twenty in number singing gospel music and there are occasions – say, in the first track - when their English seems a little contorted but one thing that this CD proves is that this music is ‘international’ in spirit and effect and the arrangements reflect this. Many of the arrangers are of course American, like Carl Haywood and Uzee Brown, although Mark Sirett is Canadian, and Martin Göttsche and Wolfram Buchenberg are German. Some are of a younger generation like Marques L.A. Garret (born 1984) and some are no longer with us, like Henry Thacker Burleigh. Most, like Norman Luboff, are or were choral directors and made their arrangements specifically for their own choirs.

What makes a good arrangement of a spiritual? For my taste, it should not be too indulgent and should attempt to keep something of the original spirit and atmosphere. In that respect, I especially liked Burleigh’s By and By and Ringwald's Deep River. I have to say that Stan Engebretson’s I’m going to sing is just too demanding for the choir, largely due to the high tessitura required of the sopranos. We know that chromatic passages are ‘fun’ to hear but they can be overdone, as I feel it is in Garrett’s I want Jesus to walk with me but this is mitigated by its attractive tango-like rhythms; likewise, the slightly sickly Calvary arranged by Courtney Carey.

I was delighted to find that the arrangements can be found and purchased on Carus’ own website as one or two would suit my choir and you might feel the same. I might well look out for Fenner’s arrangement of My lord, what a morning which, being homophonic, is more like the original hymn with an added baritone soloist. This publication, also entitled ‘Hallelujah’ includes about thirty arrangements in all. That Fenner arrangement, like several others is a capella, but some, like Go Down Moses, are accompanied by the piano and the last, Wade in the Water has a drum kit.

The recording is ideal and diction is mostly clear although all texts are supplied, but one might feel rather aggrieved at having less than forty-five minutes of music, especially when one gets so few other opportunities to hear such interesting repertoire.
Gary Higginson


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