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Runestad’s imagination is what used to be called ‘engaged’, in the sense of motivated by political, social and ethical issues. Many will notice the title Why The Caged Bird Sings among the works here and will think of Maya Angelou; but Runestad, typically, has gone back to the title’s real origin in the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar. He describes himself as a ‘hoarder’ of poetry, and like a lot of vocal composers is drawn to writing with lots of open vowels and plosive consonants. It sometimes takes him into strange places, where jaunty doggerel awaits, but he has better judgement; the American Triptych, to texts by Thoreau, Wendell Berry and John Muir (which rightly promises an environmental but not unlyrical theme), is magnificent and sung with firm authority by Conspirare, who really do live up to their name; ‘conspiracy’ is ‘breathing together’, and their ensemble discipline is impressive all the way through.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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