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Review of James D'Angelo's new CD The Holy City

For those who have worked with James D’Angelo in his popular Soundspirit courses, or read his two seminal books, this will bring a new dimension of understanding to his work.

Recorded at Washington National Cathedral as part of the New American Choral Music Series, The Holy City comprises the entire catalogue of the sacred music of James D’Angelo as composer. He is familiar with composing for a cathedral. A resident of Gloucester, he has created a close relationship with Gloucester Cathedral and its musical director Adrian Partington since 2009.

Three of his pieces have been commissioned and performed there including the Festival Fanfare for the opening of the 2013Three Choirs Festival. It is evident that he knows how to compose specifically for cathedral spaces. He allows for sustained voices to resonate and reverberate within the architecture of the cathedral as well as the cathedral of the listener’s body.

As I was listening my husband walked into the living room and asked “Is this Tavener?” “No,” I answered. “It’s James D’Angelo.” While his music reflects influences of Tavener, Hindemith, Holst and the Renaissance composer Gesualdo, he maintains his own distinct voice. His musical palette consists of richly textured harmonies and word painting. He produces moods by layering chords, use of dynamics and choice of vocal colour.

Moods move from pathos to surprise, joy and a deep soul stillness. His Tenebrae Factae Sunt is gentle and peaceful reflecting the gradual extinguishing of candles during the last three days of Holy Week before Easter. As the piece ends the organ chords hang in space like incense. My favourite piece is the title track The Holy City. Walk with him through the cloisters of the Holy City where pain is transfigured into light shining through stain glass windows. Delicious dissonance resolves in away that we are reminded of our own spiritual quest.

The work starts with a soprano voice supported by the choir underneath on wordless tones. With the phrase “Come in” the dynamics rise as the full choir sings with her.Listen how the harmony moves from dissonance to consonance, resolving on the word “God.” The repetition of the words “all things new” creates the image of an emerging spring. This world premiere recording is sung with passion by Cathedra directed by Michael McCarthy. Scott Dettra is the excellent organist.

The Holy City is a work to listen to again and again. Whether you are a spiritual pilgrim, a musician or a music listener, each listening will bring new layers of meaning to this sacred work. Extracts of this CD can be heard on the composer’s new website www.jamesdangelomusic.com and is available for purchase through the same site.

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