The Augsburger Domsingknaben, or boy singers of Augsburg Cathedral, have a claim to be the perfect group to interpret the music of the south German composer Hans Leo Hassler, a student of Andrea Gabrieli whose music straddles the Renaissance and Baroque eras. The young choristers come from the same area where the music originated, and, like some of the English cathedral choirs, they have a history going back to the middle of the last millennium (although not quite so continuous).
The Book of Genesis tells us that in the beginning was the Word and that the Word was sound. But what if it was music? What if God, in contemplating the creation of Creation, sang being into being? If so, it might have sounded something like the Sacred Songs of Valentin Silvestrov. In this seventh ECM album devoted to the Ukrainian composer’s music, we thusly encounter a sense of space unique to the Russian liturgy: the more the voices unify in movement, the more they lift from one another like temporary tattoos, leaving behind mirror images that wash away with baptism into infinite oneness with the Holy Spirit. Sin as sun. Firmament as fundament.
A few of these small choral gems are well known to amateur choirs, and Poulenc's secular choral pieces are more often presented one at a time on choral albums than in the groupings in which they were originally included. Francis Poulenc: Secular Choral Music offers the composer's very first choral piece, the Chanson à boire for men's voices (1922), but most of the music here dates from either the late '30s (the Petites voix, for female or children's voices, and Sept chansons) or the World War II era (Un soir de neige), the folk-song settings entitled Chansons françaises, and the ambitious Figure humaine, whose final number, "Liberté," was dropped in sheet music form over French cities by Britain's Royal Air Force. Someone once described Poulenc as "part monk, part hooligan," and these a cappella choral works give evidence of both tendencies. The Chansons françaises are cheerful pieces with just a shade of extended harmony, almost French counterparts to Bartók's folk song settings, while the more serious pieces, such as "Un chien perdu" (A Lost Dog), from the Petites voix, have a mystical tinge that links them strongly with Poulenc's better-known sacred choral music.