The diverse choral music of Holst, Prokofiev, Beach, Rheinberger, Mendelssohn and Rossini makes for a very enjoyable program, sung by the seven women and one countertenor of the Etherea Vocal Ensemble. These eight young singers are led by their artistic director Derek Greten-Harrison on a Delos CD titled “Hymn to the Dawn”. With only eight singers, and several of the works sung by a portion of that number, each voice is very exposed. Singers must perform flawlessly, as they do here, both as soloist and as part of the ensemble. It’s a pleasure to be treated to such clear and gorgeous singing.
The music is not only beautifully sung, but also thoughtfully programmed. It seems to me to be in three parts. For the first, a harp plays a prominent role, followed by a middle section of a cappella singing and concluding with the choir accompanied by piano or organ. The program opens with two rarely performed works by Gustav Holst, the Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda and Two Eastern Pictures. Harpist Grace Cloutier, who is a wonderful musician, accompanies the Holst, then provides a brief interlude with a Prokofiev Prelude to be followed by Amy Beach’s Three Shakespeare Choruses. In the Beach, the choir is reduced to a quartet, and every line and word is crystal clear. The middle a cappella section is music from the romantic period: songs by Josef Rheinberger and motets of Mendelssohn. In a stylistic departure from the rest of the program, the album concludes with Trois choeurs religieux for women’s chorus and piano by Rossini. Not profound, but sunny and sweetly sung, reminiscent at times of the great composer’s operatic choruses.
The Mendelssohn motets were recorded in Christ Church, New Haven and the rest of the tracks in the Marquand Chapel, Yale Divinity School. It is all recorded in impressive sound from the California based record label Delos, who in 2013, can be congratulated on their 40th anniversary.
A critically acclaimed emerging choir’s second album on Delos
Following the conspicuous success of Ceremony of Carols (DE 3422), Etherea Vocal Ensemble’s stunning debut album, we at Delos are delighted to present Hymn to the Dawn: their second effort. Amid a flood of positive critical response to Etherea’s first album, critic Bob chambers’ comments (inChoral Journal, August 2012) are typical:“Throughout the recording the style is impeccable and the intonation flawless. One is immediately struck by the tone of the group … shimmering. no boy choir could equal this tone.”
Rare and fascinating selections from the limited repertoire for female choir
While the male choir tradition had been flourishing (particularly in Germany) since the early 1800s, works composed specifically for female choirs were quite rare – as there were practically no women’s ensembles to perform them. But two such early rarities – by Felix Mendelssohn and Gioachino Rossini – are heard in this album. Composers of the late-Romantic era didn’t begin writing regularly for treble voices until after 1859, when Johannes Brahms founded (and composed for) his women’s choir in Hamburg. This gave rise to a mini-trend that inspired composers like Josef Rheinberger, Amy Beach and Gustav Holst (all represented here) to write for such ensembles. Even so, music for women’s voices remains relatively uncommon.
Three world premiere recordings
This release includes first-ever recordings of Beach’s charming Three Shakespeare Choruses, Rheinberger’s accomplished Sechs Gesänge cycle, and the French-text version of Rossini’s delightful Trois choeurs religieux. Among the album’s other selections, Holst’s very seldom-heard Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda and the Two Eastern Pictures are particularly rare, exotic, strikingly lovely, and ripe for rediscovery.
Ravishing performances from the most unique choir of its kind and its supporting instrumentalists
The Etherea Vocal Ensemble is probably the only choir of its kind, consisting of eight voices – belonging to seven accomplished ladies and one supremely versatile gentleman: Derek Greten-Harrison, the ensemble’s director and performing countertenor (also an occasional baritone). The choir’s stiletto-sharp intonation, technical perfection, and celestially pure and gleaming sound never fail to enthrall its fortunate audiences. Keyboard master Alan Murchie and renowned harpist Grace cloutier (who also performs the beguiling solo Prelude by Prokofiev here) provide sensitive and expert accompaniment.
Etherea Vocal Ensemble
Renowned for its “superb blending of tone, dynamic range, and flexible technique” (Opera News), Etherea Vocal Ensemble is a chamber group specializing in the performance of choral repertoire for treble voices. Founded and directed by countertenor Derek Greten-Harrison, Etherea made its debut with virtuoso harpist Grace Cloutier at Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival in December 2009, and has since appeared in concert at Yale Institute of Sacred Music and other venues in the northeast region.
For more information, please visit http://ethereavocalensemble.com/.
Artistic Director: Derek Greten-Harrison
Derek Greten-Harrison (artistic director) earned his Bachelor of Music from Manhattan School of Music and Master of Music in opera performance from Purchase College, State University of New York. He is highly sought after for his compelling work both as a countertenor and as a baritone.
For more information, please visit ethereavocalensemble.com/derek-greten-harrison-artistic-director/.
Harp: Grace Cloutier
Known for her expressive musicality and rich, warm sound, the young concert harpist Grace Cloutier, who trained at The Juilliard School, Yale University and in France, gave her solo début and encore solo recital at Carnegie Hall (2006, 2008) as first prize winner of the International Competition of Artist International Presentations.
For more information, please visit http://gracecloutier.com/.
Organ and Piano: Alan Murchie
Alan Murchie is a versatile musician whose performance schedule includes regular appearances as a solo pianist, organist, conductor, chamber musician, and lecturer. Recent concert performances include piano and organ concerti with The Knights, a live recital on WGBH Boston with BSO cellist Owen Young, and appearances at summer festivals including Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, New York.
For more information, please visit ethereavocalensemble.com/alan-murchie-pianist/.