James Newton: Sacred Works

Composer(s): James Newton
Album Title: James Newton: Sacred Works 
Cat. No.: 80714
Genre: Classical
Release Date: 03/2011
Description: Elissa Johnston, soprano; Tracy Van Fleet, mezzo-soprano; Daniel Chaney, tenor; Abdiel Gonzales, bass-baritone; Gary Woodward, flute; Gary Bovyer, clarinet; Ralph Morrison, violin; Kazi Pitelka, viola; Cécilia Tsan, cello; David Young, bass; Vicki Ray, piano; Lynn Vartan, percussion; Gloria Cheng, piano; Julie Feves, bassoon; Mark Menzies, piano; Grant Gershon, conductor

This is the first recording devoted to James Newton’s (b. 1953) sacred works. Among his influences, Newton cites Bach and Stravinsky’s masses and cantatas, as well as the operas of Messiaen, Puccini and Verdi as touchstones. While Newton does not appropriate materials from European composers, he does occasionally utilize their methods, his use of Bach-derived counterpoint in the “Kyrie” being a salient example in his Mass (2006–7). However, its usage here should not be considered in isolation, but in juxtaposition with those passages of the “Kyrie” that draw on the harmonic contours of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” Newton does not attempt an overt synthesis of the two traditions; rather, he lets their colors reverberate against each other like the heraldic stripes of a Kenneth Noland chevron. Between the Cherubim (2007) for solo piano and the song In a Moment, in the Twinkling of an Eye (2004, rev. 2009) complement Newton’s Mass both in terms of musical statements and messages of faith. Newton’s writing for piano in the Mass is flecked with flourishes that exude the spontaneity of improvisation, a quality present throughout Between the Cherubim. Inspired by Bach, who incorporated English, French and Italian dances into his sacred music, and Thomas A. Dorsey, who shaped gospel music out of the blues, In a Moment, in the Twinkling of an Eye is a stand-alone example of Newton’s transformations of secular materials through the use of sacred texts, in this case a passage from 1st Corinthians. Newton’s writing for voice in the initial passages of the song resembles that of his Mass, his emphasis on diction and dynamics echoing the African-American tradition of concert singing, a historically busy intersection between sacred and secular forms of music. 
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