Recordings

Phil Kline:  John the Revelator Phil Kline:  John the Revelator - A Mass for Six Voices
Cantalope Music CA21047

Notes From the Composer


Who's that writing? John the Revelator!

Those were the words coming out of my radio speaker. I was a teenager in Akron, Ohio. The voice, which seemed to reach back to the beginnings of time, was that of the great Son House, though the song was actually written by gospel-blues legend Blind Willie Johnson. Before I even began to write this Mass I chose the title John the Revelator because the song is like a window to a deeper world. The ritual of the Mass itself is a kind of spiritual portal through which one can become part of a universal body. I figured I might enter that portal myself in the process of discovery, and I wished to pass unburdened by a rigid plan, formal or stylistic. This is not a "blues" Mass any more than it is a medieval one, though such music lurks near my heart, along with doo-wop, Byrd, Bruckner, Brian Wilson and Oum Khalsoum.

My concept was to set the traditional Latin Ordinary (the parts of the Mass that remain the same from week to week) for chorus alone, and to add my own set of Propers (the parts that change according to season) using a variety of texts, and to have those sections accompanied by the string quartet. The texts I ultimately chose suggest a narrative of redemption in a blighted world. Several are from the Old Testament, including two from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Rather than use the New Testament apocalypse of Revelation, I chose one by the American poet David Shapiro, whose image of indifferently falling snow recalls the ashes falling from the skies of lower Manhattan. Offered as a prayer, Samuel Beckett's monologue The Unnamable brilliantly portrays the the struggle of the mind in present tense. And while Dark Was the Night has no text that can be heard, it is a fantasy on Willie Johnson's 1927 recording of an old hymn depicting Jesus' doubt at the Passion, paraphrased in wordless moaning.

Bookending the Mass are treatments of two early American shape-note hymns from the The Sacred Harp: Northport and Wondrous Love, which have long been favorites of mine. They stir the vestiges of an unforgettable and mysterious beauty, the sound of the strong emotion, unconditional and utterly lacking in malice, that I remember from the rural religion I witnessed as a child in Pennsylvania and Ohio. It seems like a dream in today's blurred politic. My favorite part of religion has always been the mystery. What wondrous love is this? Not reasoned or forced, it's just there. -Phil Kline

El Siglo De Oro:  Chant and Polyphony of Renaissance Spain
Koch KIC-CD-7676 - 60:08 minutes (recorded February 2006)
I can't think of another group that sings chant as lyrically as Lionheart. On so many other programs of chant and polyphony, you find yourself waiting for the group to get past the chant, which sounds so thin, so you can hear the "good stuff." But everything is the good stuff when these six men sing.  This CD features the Missa Ave Maria of Cristobal de Morales (c.1500-1553) interspersed with motets from Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and Gregorian chants for the Feast of the Annunciation from a 1557 choral book printed in Salamanca. The motets are almost all in Spanish. It's a surprising sound for the ears because this is, in many ways, music straight out of the Roman tradition. (Guerrero was closely associated with the cathedral in his native Seville, but published much of his music in Italy.  Both composers wrote for the Papal choir.) What makes this Lionheart performance so good? Start with the basics: articulation, blend, balance, tone, timing, changes in rhythm and tempo (often difficult ones, because these are, after all, Spanish composers). They sing with a great sensitivity to the text. And then there are the intangibles. The voices are rich, lush, innately musical - all without the kind of emoting that would be inappropriate in this context. There is a complexity of sound in even the most simple, straightforward works - a complexity that makes you want to listen again and again. -- Beth Adelman, Early Music America, Summer 2007

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Tydings Trew:  Medieval English Carols and Motets
Koch KIC-CD-7562 - 66:33 minutes (recorded 2002)

A beautiful blending of voices
By HERMAN TROTTER, News Music Critic, The Buffalo News, Wednesday, December 12, 2001
Lionheart is one ensemble that gives the early music movement a good name.  In its Tuesday program, called "Tydings Trew: Feasts of Christmas in Medieval England," the group gave a demonstration of how six voices can blend and impinge on each other with such centered focus and intensity that the bloom rising from the ensemble, even at mezzo piano levels, can sound full and rich.  The ensemble's pronunciation of the Early English and Latin texts also became a point of listener fascination. It was almost sculptural, with the sounds of the individual syllables carved in a way that produced perfect sound formation and immaculate enunciation...Not everything was of equal interest, but the 13th century anonymous hymn "Sancte dei preciose" is something I'll not soon forget. The singers were in two groups of three for this three-verse hymn. At the end of the first verse one voice held onto a soft pedal point on the syllable "O," and after the second verse another vocal pedal point joined the first, continuing as a quiet mesmerizing drone through the entire third verse. It's a pity more contemporary composers don't have the imagination of this anonymous 13th century visionary.

 

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Palestrina:  Soul of Rome
Koch  - 65:56 minutes (recorded 2000)

This thoughtfully constructed program, beautifully sung by Lionheart, features music by composers closely connected with the papal choir (hence the word Rome in the title): Costanzo Festa (cl490-1545), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c1525-1594), and Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611).  This is Lionheart 's first recording in nearly three years and it is worth the wait. The ensemble's tonal quality is sublime, and their voices blend flawlessly. Typically, Lionheart 's articulation is crystalline, and there's an emotional weight behind each note - these guys are paying attention to the words.  The sonic quality of the disc is stellar, with a realistic church acoustic that doesn't skimp on clarity or warmth. This is a vital addition to the Palestrina discography and one of the best recordings of Renaissance polyphony in recent (or distant) memory. --Craig Zeichner, Early Music America

 

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Paris 1200

 

 

Paris 1200:  Chant and Polyphony from 12th Century France

Nimbus NI 5547 - 73:54 (recorded 1997)

"Certainly My Fayre Ladye, Lionheart's first Nimbus release and an inspired work in its own right, was dotted with those rare moments of beauty so intense as to deny all experience outside themselves. Paris 1200, however, is fairly awash in them. As the name implies, the music featured is that associated with the cathedral of Notre Dame at the dawn of the 13th century, mostly motets, conducti, and all manner of organum. The singing, of course, is excellent; the men of Lionheart sound just as comfortable with their idiom as they do with each other, and show more unanimity of vision than I would otherwise believe a half dozen guys to be capable of." -- Christopher Winter Mullis, Early Music America

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My Fayre Ladye:  Images of Women in Medieval England - Tudor Songs and Chant

Nimbus NI 5512 - 73:54 (recorded 1996)

In June of 1996 Nimbus brought Lionheart to their beautiful new concert hall and recording studio, nestled in the rolling hills of the Welsh countryside, to record their debut CD, "My Fayre Ladye: Tudor songs and Chant".  Since its release in June of 1997 it has garnered praise from publications in the U.S. and Europe, and has resulted in Lionheart being nominated by AFIM for "Best New Classical Ensemble".  "...there is no doubt that this is a beautiful collection. Worth the price alone is "O regina mundi clara" by the little-known John Browne. This big work uses pairs, trios and the whole collection of voices to create a fine aural tapestry, and Browne's sound is an individual one. Another real treat is the amazingly bawdy "Blow thi horne hunter." The group's pitch and involvement are never in doubt..." Robert Levine, Tower Records' Classical Pulse Online.

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Lionheart's CDs can be ordered online through sites such as Amazon.com, CDNow.com and TowerRecords.com.  They can also be purchased at most major record stores with a well-stocked classical department, if you can still find such an animal in your area.


Lionheart is represented exclusively by Bernstein Artists and records for Koch International.

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