Eventide by Voces8: Transcendence at Twilight

EventideIn Eventide, the beautiful new album on the Decca Classics label from British choral group Voces8, the listener is asked to pause, as the lengthening shadows begin to stretch across the floor ahead of nightfall.  Through a sampling of old and new musical compositions, the men and women of Voces8 and the musicians accompanying them demonstrate considerable polish and talent.  Yet more importantly, by calling us to adopt a reflective mood as daylight departs, they evoke a sense of timeless stillness, which many of us could benefit from seeking out more often in our lives.

Beginning with the first track, a “Te Lucis Ante Terminum” by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Voces8 make clear that this musical reverie is going to be of an echoing, ethereal quality.  “Reflexionem” by British composer Patrick Hawes (born 1958), and featuring the outstanding cellist Matthew Sharp, does exactly what its name implies.  I could easily imagine myself in the pew, after having received the Eucharist, and listening to this piece as I focus my attention on things above, while at the same time reflecting on things below.

The real standout of the entire album is “Second Eve”, by the young Norwegian composer and Julliard alum Ola Gjeilo (born 1978).  Using the Ave Maria wand references from other Marian texts, the pieces references historical singing styles but nevertheless feels contemporary, in the best sense of that word, layering melody with harmonies and counterpoint in ways that are somewhat unusual, but beautifully performed by Voces8.  There is a combination of sweetness with a sense of anxiety in the first half of the performance, which turns unexpectedly into something more triumphant and aspirational by the end.  This piece deserves to become better-known among both ecclesiastical and secular choral music directors.

Other noteworthy tracks are the deeply atmospheric, majestic, and beautifully performed “Os Justi” by Bruckner (1824-1896), Franz Beibl’s (1906-2001) well-known Camelot-era “Ave Maria”, and closing out the album, a different “Te Lucis Ante Terminum”, this time by an unknown Medieval composer.  This final track becomes more complex as it proceeds, as more voices are layered in.  The recording eventually returns to the simplicity and silence with which it and indeed the album itself began, reminding one of the instructional words in the Order of Mass for Holy Thursday, “All depart in silence.”

If you are a choral singer, choir director, or musician yourself, I suspect that several of the pieces and composers on this album will be unfamiliar to you, making this an opportunity to add to your repertoire.  For those seeking music for meditation and prayer, you will find the album very helpful, in that it is not an obtrusive work.  Rather, as the album’s title implies, there is a recognition that one needs to slow down and refocus at the end of the day.  And dare I say it, those of you who simply need something playing in the background, to study or work by, will find this recording softens an anxious mind and heart, in order to better focus on what needs doing.

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If you’re interested in the chance to win a free copy of “Eventide” by Voces8, I’m hosting a giveaway courtesy of Decca Classics.  You can enter to win by following this link, and providing me with your name and email address – one entry per reader, please.  You may enter any time between now and Midnight Eastern tomorrow.  The winner will be selected at random, and announced here on the blog this Friday, June 20th. Best of luck!

Voces8 Group Photo

The members of Voces8

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This Week’s Giveaway Winner – And Next Week’s Chance to Win!

Thanks to the dozens of people who entered for a chance to win a copy of The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home.  I’m pleased to announce that the winner is Mrs. Katie Kolodzy of suburban Atlanta, Georgia!  Hope you enjoy this terrific resource, and thanks to Sophia Institute Press both for asking me to review this very helpful and informative book, as well as allowing my readers a chance to receive a free copy.

Setting up a little oratory of your own really isn’t that difficult.  I’ve had one of my own for years, as I described in the book review; you can see the top of it below.  This part of the oratory features an image of Christ Pantocrator in the middle, displayed on an easel directly beneath the wall sconce.  Christ is flanked by wooden statues of Saints Peter and Paul, and all three are from Spain, made in the Romanesque style which dominated Western art history from roughly 1000-1150 A.D.

Flanking the statues of the two saints are gilded images from Italy of two angels playing musical instruments, which are taken from the work of the early Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico.  In front of the image of Christ Pantocrator is a contemporary Easter egg on a gilt stand from Russia, portraying a traditional icon of the Madonna and Child.  And surrounding all of these objects is a selection of some of my favorite family photos.

Chances are that you already have items like this around the home, that you could bring together into one place to serve as an oratory.  The images of Jesus, the angels, and the saints are there to remind me of the goal, as it were, of where my life is supposed to be heading.  And the family pictures, particularly since I don’t get to see my family as often as I’d like, remind me to pray for them, and to commend them to God’s care.

Putting together something like this, in a way that is meaningful and helpful for your prayer life, is something that really anyone can do – and if you’re not sure how to start, then “The Little Oratory” can definitely help you in that regard.

Now, for those of you who missed out this time around, next week I’ll be reviewing and hosting yet another giveaway! This time, courtesy of legendary recording company Decca Classics, we’ll be taking a listen to the new release from Voces 8, “Eventide”, which will be released in the U.S. on June 24th.  A British a cappella octet made up of six men and two women, the group performs a wide range of music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, all the way up to the present-day.   Wednesday of this coming week, you’ll be able to check out my review, and enter for a chance to win a free copy of their new CD.

Once again, my thanks to Sophia Institute Press for this week’s giveaway, and especially to my readers for your patronage of this site!



Looking at Audrey Hepburn and “The Devil”

Last night while making dinner I watched the musical “Funny Face” (1957), starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.  Not being a fan of Astaire – which amounts to heresy in some quarters – I had always avoided it.  Being a fan of Hepburn’s however, I decided to at least give it a chance.

I was struck from the first by how much the recent film “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) took many of its cues from this earlier film.  In a way it’s not surprising, since Hollywood has been pushing Anne Hathaway as the new Audrey Hepburn for some time now.  Admittedly, this is a comparison somewhat unfair to both actresses.

Yet notice how Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) in “Funny Face” comes charging into her domain as editor of a prestigious fashion magazine, past a pair of secretaries, to the terror of all around her.  Her sanctum sanctorum looks almost exactly like that of another “M.P”,” Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in “Prada”, complete with almost the same view of Midtown Manhattan.  There’s a discussion in both films about how important the choice of a particular color can be for world commerce.  There’s even a scene where Jo Stockton (Hepburn) runs away to hide in the darkroom of Dick Avery (Astaire), not unlike a similar scene in “Prada” between Andy Sachs (Hathaway) and Nigel (Stanley Tucci).

Does this mean that “The Devil Wears Prada” is merely a rip-off? Well, no: and actually, I found “Funny Face” to be a pretty boring film.  “Prada” on the whole is a better-acted movie, and has a more compelling storyline.  There again however, the comparison is somewhat unfair, because there’s a big difference between a fluffy old Hollywood musical, and a contemporary dramedy.  Yet the fact that one can even make such a comparison, between the classic and the contemporary in cinema, is important.

If we are to understand where our culture comes from, we need to continually be educating ourselves on how to perceive the roots of the past in the fruits of the present.  Contemporary musicians like Chris Thile and Alison Krauss for example, look back to Bach or the Civil War era, even as they work with modern artists from different genres like Justin Timberlake or Robert Plant.   The modern-day city of Washington, D.C. features monumental buildings and urban planning elements that reference England, France, Ancient Greece, and Rome, four cultures which had a significant philosophical impact on the Founders.  Even the “Star Wars” saga would not have been possible without George Lucas being very much aware of the medieval legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Thus, even if “Funny Face” in the end isn’t a particularly good movie, the lesson here is a good one.  When we can perceive how one film references another, then we can begin to understand how not just movies, but all of Western culture – from art to music, literature to architecture – is often doing the same thing.  A vibrant culture is an inventive one, that doesn’t slavishly copy the past. At the same time, it should also acknowledge the contributions of the past, to maintain that sense of where we come from.  Training our eyes to look for these types of connections then, will make us better-appreciate the richness of the world around us.

Audrey Hepburn in a scene from "Funny Face" (1957)

Audrey Hepburn in a scene from “Funny Face” (1957)