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Made in the national Cathedral, Washington DC, is a release of music by ‘new’ American choral composers, from Gothic Records. The first volume, with works by William Bradley Roberts, is performed by the mixed adult choir of St John’s, Lafayette Square in Washington DC. Texts range from the 16th century Herrick, Donne) through scripture to American verse. of these, the simpler unaccompanied settings speak best. Expressive language has a tendency toward oblique progressions and unprepared suspensions. There are also takes on the African-American spiritual genre, though these sound self-conscious and rather incongruous here.

The second and third releases both feature Cathedra, Washington National Cathedral’s resident mixed-voice ensemble (established in 2010). These professional voices (of a flexible number around 20) work under the direction of British choral director Michael McCarthy, now in his twelfth year as director of music at the Cathedral. The clarity and agility of Cathedra help convince in the a cappella music of Stephen Caracciolo, who strives successfully to communicate the text. Works with organ (played here by another ex-pat Brit, Jeremy Filsell) are triumphant and catchy. The ensemble has honed an almost English way with vowels, with a subtle underlying warmth of American accent which is perfectly judged and works naturally.

It is impossible to avoid comparisons of The Lamb, There is no rose, Pie Jesu and Ubi caritas with their progenitors; and to find the new works lacking is perhaps good reason to set lesser-known texts, or commission new ones. James D’Angelo’s voice in settings for the Mass and Evensong is less ubiquitous than in the case of the other composers here, but the word setting can be protracted and repetitive, lacking fluency.

For conductors to explore further repertoire by composers already known to them, this series may find a use. overall the performances, especially of Cathedra, are commendable; the music, nothing new.

MATTHEW POWER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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