Tarik O'Regan, Threshold of Night: Music for Voices and Strings performed by Conspirare and the Company of Voices conducted by Craig Hella Johnson (Harmonia Mundi). Tarik O'Regan is a 30-year-old British composer now living in New York. This music for chorus and strings is of unearthly beauty. The music is strongly tonal -- even hauntingly tuneful in the "Triptych" -- and, as with much of Ralph Vaughan Williams or Gavin Bryars (to take entirely different generations of British composers) the volume levels seldom seem to exceed the briefest forte. As with the music of John Adams, you know listening to O'Regan that the minimalism of Glass, Reich, Nyman and Riley once happened, but that this composer has no interest in any music that smacks, even remotely, of mannerism or theory. He wrote much of this at the Yaddo writers' colony in Saratoga, so it should surprise no one that he takes his texts from Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Edgar Allan Poe ("Israfel"), Kathleen Raine, John Fletcher, Blake, Wordsworth, Hardy and Milton.
Jeff Simon, Buffalo News (New York), 8/3/2008
Thirty-year-old British composer Tarik O'Regan has been very favorably represented on recordings so far--his Scattered Rhymes (type Q11590 in Search Reviews) was issued to very positive reviews earlier this year, sharing a program (as well as musical and structural ideas) with Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame. If you heard that work and liked it, you'll find much more to enjoy here; if you found the going through the three sections of Scattered Rhymes a bit difficult, you absolutely should not hesitate to give this program a listen. The seven works on offer here, all recorded for the first time (several commissioned for this CD), are not only significant and eminently worthy entries into the modern choral repertoire, but they also are accessible in the best sense of the word--that is, the music immediately reveals itself and rewards careful, serious listening. There's nothing to "figure out", no detailed explanations to read before listening (although the composer's brief notes on each work are useful and informative)--rather, O'Regan's intentions and realization of the texts speak for themselves through artful, consistently engaging choral writing.
It's not easy to describe the music, which is fundamentally tonal but not based on traditional ideas of melodic themes and harmonic movement, but there are some recurring structural and thematic features, including the use of imitative, often overlapping layers of melodic/rhythmic fragments; increasing and decreasing density of textures, which range from clusters to wider voicings, from solo voice and duet to octets and full choir, spiced with tangy dissonances and occasional, judiciously planted, unaltered chords or unisons; ostinatos and pulsing, momentum-building rhythms (reminiscent of minimalist techniques) usually in the instrumental accompaniment; and moods of high energy contrasted with ethereal, meditative quietness.
Most of these works are written for voices with strings--itself a rather unusual if very affecting combination that lends itself particularly well to O'Regan's harmonic and textural sensibility. The poetry also is intriguing--works by Edgar Allan Poe next to Emily Dickinson and Pablo Neruda. While much could be said about each of these pieces, highlights for me were two a cappella works--Threshold of Night and the setting of Neruda's Tal vez tenemos tiempo (Maybe we have time), the former notable for O'Regan's technique of over-layering and rhythmically staggering lines of text, lending remarkable dynamism to the interaction of the voices, while the latter is a marvelous evocation of the text by means of primarily homophonic structure (but what harmony!) complemented by careful, language-sensitive rhythmic articulation.
The works here were all written (or in one case, revised) within the past three years, but they are all quite distinctive and different, owing to O'Regan's concern for and ability to "get inside" the poetry and because, well, he's a truly gifted, skilled, creative artist who seems to be concerned with writing original music--no hooks, gimmicks, or formulas--that although variously challenging, people can hear and feel and perform and understand, music that's worthy and demanding of repetition, which will engender a desire for more. You may find this in the very lovely, affecting final minutes of the Poe setting, The Ecstasies Above, or in the profoundly moving middle section of Triptych ("As We Remember Them"), but if you love choral music, you'll definitely want to spend some serious time with these works--and you'll certainly want to hear more. Needless to say, the performances are first rate--this choir has an established reputation for excellence and has taken to O'Regan's music as if it were created just for them (which some of it was!). The sound, from one of North America's premiere recording and performance venues--the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, NY--is ideal. Don't miss this. [And if you can't wait, the recording is available for download through digital media outlets such as iTunes, Zune, and emusic.]
David Vernier, Classics Today.com, 8/12/2008
Following hot on the heels of the superb 'Scattered Rhymes' comes
'Threshold of Night', another disc featuring the music of one of the most gifted young British composers writing for massed voices at the moment, Tarik O'Regan. Where the former release had to share space with works by Machaut, Dufay and Gavin Bryars, this is seven-course O'Regan - and what a feast it is.
...Conspirare is one of America's leading vocal ensembles,
and it's easy to hear why in these superb performances. The gradual opening-out of Had I Not Seen the Sun is beautifully managed, as are the solo parts by soprano Melissa Givens and tenor Jonathon Subia. This is Dickinson's 'wilderness' indeed, through preparing a space for the inrush of music to follow. The great expanses of calm over which a solo violin or soprano soars; the ecstatic dances; the surging rhythms: these are likewise animated by a fine sense of balance between precision and abandon in The Ecstasies Above and point to he combination of restless urgency and refulgent string passages in Triptych while providing a perfect counterpoint
to the glowing transparency of Threshold of Night.
...The use of pedals or drones over which vocal arabesques play with sinuous clarity; the shimmering polyphonic textures in which the homophonic passages are reflected like Moorish architecture in a fountain; the supple and often
surprising use of rhythm to underscore a poetic idea: all these are constant sources of delight and to be found in abundance on this exceptionally well-recorded and presented release.
Robert Levett, International Record Review, 9/1/2008
[O'Regan's] music is virtuosic, impulsively careening toward maximum drama in his treatment of texts by Edgar Allan Poe and Pablo Neruda, often with simultaneous ideas in opposing keys....
David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/27/2008
At the start of the 2007 season, Conspirare captivated audiences in Austin and Houston with a concert of works by the phenomenally gifted (and award-winning) young composer Tarik O'Regan. Now, at the start of the 2008 season, the Grammy-nominated choral ensemble is set to captivate audiences across the globe with a recording of those same works by O'Regan. On Sept. 9, Threshold of Night gets an international release from Harmonia Mundi, and the eminent classical-music label thinks highly enough of the CD – Conspirare's first on Harmonia – to feature the choir on the cover of its September catalog of new releases.
The label's faith in Conspirare is well-placed; this is a recording worthy of attention. A single listen confirms the impression from last year's concerts that this choir and composer are exquisitely matched. Conductor Craig Hella Johnson and his company of voices have the skill to voice all the colors in O'Regan's richly varied musical palette: the densely clustered voices that pull at one another in tense dissonance here and resolve in sumptuous harmonies there, the rhythms that rocket a song along or ease it into a blissful peace. Moreover, they have a feel for the material, for its drama and intensity and the deep spiritual dimension at its foundation. Threshold of Night spends much of its time at death's door, with selections that ponder life's brevity, our remembrance of those lost, and being and not being, but fear not that this recording is gloomy and morbid. On it are moments of ethereal beauty, voices unified in long, sustained lines that bespeak a profound serenity beyond this plane, and also moments of profound urgency, as when the choir rides a herd of galloping strings toward the promise of resurrection. It surges with an insistent, ecstatic joy that shines throughout Conspirare's latest. This is one meditation on mortality that's thrillingly alive.
Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle, 9/5/2008
Mesmerizing and sublime, 'Threshold of Night,’ — the new CD on Harmonia Mundi by Grammy-nominated Austin choir Conspirare with music by Tarik O’Regan — is utter virtuosity.
The 11 affecting pieces for voices and strings — set to texts by British and American writers, such as Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe — are hauntingly beautiful, completely new and oddly ancient-sounding in the same stroke.
Conspirare artistic director Craig Hella Johnson commissioned three of the works on ‘Threshold’ two set to poems by Dickinson and one by Pablo Neruda. Conspirare performed the program here last September before heading to the famed Troy Savings Bank Music Hall to record. (Conspirare recorded its Grammy-nominated CD “Requiem” at Troy Music Hall.) The title work — from Kathleen Raine’s “Three Poems of Incarnation” — netted O’Regan the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters Award.
O’Regan, a 30-year-old British composer now living in New York, crafts his own truly original style. Yes, this music is essentially tonal, but hardly could you characterize it as traditionally melodic. O’Regan’s music layers voices with brilliant intricacy. Voices cluster seamlessly in full choir, then emerge in delicate solos. He deftly combines airy melodies with only short moments of subtle dissonance to a powerful effect. Brief, pulsing, life-affirming moments balance out against more ethereal and meditative passages. Thematic features overlap and repeat.
It’s ultimately urban music for the 21st century— gently swirling with threads of many different sounds while an ultra-subtle city soundscape gurgles underneath. Transcendent.
Jeanne Calire van Ryzin, Austin American Statesman, 9/9/2008
Two ethereal settings of Emily DIckinson book-end verse settings by British composer Tarik O'Regan that vivdly combine and contrast voices and strings, the consorts directed by Craig Hella Johnson immaculately captured in this SACD.
Phillip Sommerich, Classical Music, 8/16/2008
With two full-length recordings to his name and a prominent presence on the recent "Scattered Rhymes" disc, Tarik O'Regan can now justifiably stake a claim as one of the leading British choral composers of his generation.
At the basis of O'Regan's style lies a thoroughgoing understanding of both the English choral tradition and medieval music...But recent works suggest that he casts his creative net much wider these days. Post-minimal and pop features can be detected in the use of straightforward harmonic progressions and melodic repetitions in the final sections of both The Ecstasies Above adn Triptych, where O'Regan dispenses with contrapuntal complexity for a direct and unadorned approach. If this suggests an American influence then it is also evident in his choice of text settings, with Edgar Allan poe and Emily Dickinson's poetry framing the collection.
Pwyll ap Sion, Gramophone, 10/1/2008
...O'Regan's music can be alternatively beautiful and unsentimentally rough. Whatever you want to call it, it hypnotizes.
[RECORDING OF THE MONTH]
Robert Levine, Stereophile, 12/1/2008
A 30-year-old Briton now living in New York, Tarik O'Regan has composed some of the most strikingly beautiful secular choral works of recent years. This collection of a cappella pieces and works for voices with strings displays his gift for luminous melodies, as well as his ingenious mix of horizontal/vertical texture. O'Regan's settings of poems by the likes of Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe and Pablo Neruda don't sound like anything else -- they are the sound of surprise, of music as magic.
The senses reel and the emotions ache when high voices vibrate at the peak of "Care Charminge Sleepe," O'Regan's masterpiece for double choir and strings that transfigures a poetic death scene from an Elizabethan play (John Fletcher's "Valentinian III," the climactic line here being "Into thy selfe gently, oh gently slide/ Kiss him into slumbers like a bride"). The tracery of strings, solo voices and chorus in "The Ecstasies Above" -- a setting of Poe's "Israfel" -- finds the musical soul of the words in a way a simple reading never could. The warm, lithe sound of the Austin, Texas-based Conspirare fully conveys the imaginative flow of the music; the recording is an audiophile experience. www.nj.com
Bradley Bambarger, The Star-Ledger, 12/1/2008
Threshold of Night, featuring multilayered settings of texts by Edgar Allan Poe and Pablo Neruda, displayed a mercurial sense of invention, astounding depth of feeling, and great compositional virtuosity. And yes, there's justice: The disc is among the Grammy nominees for best classical album.
David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/14/2008
[Tarik O'Regan] is a striking new composing voice. His settings for choir and strings of poems by the likes of Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe vibrate with luminous melodies and ravishing, unsuspected textures. www.nj.com
Bradley Bambarger, www.nj.com / The Star Ledger, 12/30/2008
I loved this music. The pieces on this disc are for chorus and strings and it's very clear that O'Regan understands both melody and song as well as what an audience might want to hear.
Cook, American Record Guide, 12/1/2009
O'Regan's string writing impresses me as the real deal. It doesn't merely accompany.
It adds to the musical argument. However, the ton of memorable ideas struck me the most. O'Regan has a knack, not for a hummable tune exactly, but for musical lines, vocal in character, that stick with you.
[Ecstasies Above] is one amazing piece. The composer responds to the word "ecstasies" with radiant music, alive and electrifying. At times, the music stops to let us catch our breath, but the intensity doesn't really let up. It left me thrilled.
Steve Schwartz, ClassicalCDReview.com, 12/19/2011