Choral Music by Clare Maclean
Sydney Chamber Choir
Paul Stanhope- conductor
$23 (Australian dollars)
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|Tall Poppies is delighted to present a second disc of Clare Macleanís choral music. Clare is one of the few Australian composers creating an oeuvre of a cappella choral music, mostly inspired by her deep religious beliefs. Her music is always accessible with its exquisite harmonies and clarity in illuminating her texts. Her deep understanding of what is satisfying for choirs to sing comes from her years as a member of the Sydney Chamber Choir.|
The following words about her first CD (TP073) from an Amazon customer say it all:
ďI was first exposed to Clare Macleanís choral music while singing in my university chamber choir. At the time, I didnít know the effect it would have on me; however, I came to realize that itís the kind of music that, once heard, stays with you. Maybe itís because her voice as a composer is so uniquely female, or because it expresses such a universal spirituality. Whatever the reason, this is some of the most glorious music I have ever heard.Ē
|Clare Maclean||Osanna Mass|
In the Year that King Uzziah Died
os anthos chortou
Vive in Deo
We welcome Summer
|At first it sounds like a medieval or renaissance Mass and then the dissonances appear making one realise that this Osanna Mass was composed more recently. While there is a contemporary sound, the overall impression is of renaissance beauty and polyphony. This is not surprising when one turns to the CD booklet to find that the Mass movements are based on plainchants for the Ordinary of the Mass. In addition, Clare Maclean incorporates in the Latin text of the Sanctus some Hebrew text of the Jewish prayer Kol Nidrei. Elsewhere she uses settings of other Jewish prayers and traditional Jewish melodies for the Latin liturgical text. This a cappella Mass is likened to an illustrated manuscript where visual aspects are translated into music with the texture, light and shade resembling decorative patterns and expressing the themes of prayer and praise. Composed for the Sydney Chamber Choir and conductor Paul Stanhope, it is performed exquisitely by them.|
The shorter works on the disc are beautiful miniatures: In the Year that King Uzziah Died, a setting of Isaiah's vision of the Lord; os anthos chorton (As the Flower of the Grass), a setting of Sappho's Fragment 31; a collection of inscriptions from Christian graves in the Roman catacombs form the first three centuries for the text of Vive in Deo (Live in God); and finally, We Welcome Summer, a setting of a poem by Michael Leunig, a bright, cheery celebration of the brilliance of the sun and a call to give thanks and offer joy for it. This is a refreshingly different and most enjoyable collection of choral works by the Penrith-based composer who lectures at the University of Western Sydney and was once a member of this very choir.
Fine Music (2MBS-FM) February 2012
Born in New Zealand but long claimed as an Australian, Clare Maclean has maintained a quiet yet constant profile as a composer of finely crafted and very beautiful sacred choral works. For more than two decades she has perfected her approach, a clear and open sound that sits neatly within the long and remarkably strong tradition of choral music in Australia, also exemplified by her contemporaries Stephen Leek and Andrew Schultz.
Maclean's pieces remind me a little of Giorgio Morandi, the Italian artist who devoted his life to painting muted still lives of bottles and jugs that sat on his dining room table. Through her own humble yet carefully shaped objects, Maclean explores nuance within a tightly focused vocal palate.
The disc features five of her recent pieces, dominated by the Osanna Mass, and all except one are settings of Christian texts (the final miniature being based on words by beloved Australian cartoonist and poet Michael Leunig). These pieces are optimistic and joyous with only the occasional smear of sadness, the overall diatonicism contrasting with some surprising textural and harmonic twists. And as with the best choral composers, Maclean has an intuitive sense of poise; of when to sound and when to be still.
Osanna maintains Maclean's longstanding relationship to her alma mater, the Sydney Chamber Choir, which granted her earliest compositional training and recorded both her monograph discs on Tall Poppies. The choir's crisp intonation perfectly suits Maclean's Renaissance-inspired polyphony; recorded within a reverberant inner-city Sydney church, Osanna is warm, rich and aurally nourishing.
Limelight January 2012
Emergent Joy towards a Higher Place: Osanna Mass
Dr Clare Maclean is a distinguished and important Australasian composer with a distinctive compositional voiceódense voice-led and polyphonic harmonic stasis with aspects evocative of European and Antipodean place. A New Zealand born composer, who currently resides at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Sydney, she has studied composition with seminal figures from both countries: Gillian Bibby and Peter Sculthorpe respectively. Her choral compositions are revered on both sides of the Tasman and internationally recognized with her appointment as composer-in-residence with the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus in the United States. The Osanna Mass, skillfully executed by the Sydney Chamber Choir under Paul Stanhopeís assured musicianship and captured lucidly by Ian Stevensonís consummate recording skills, represents an architecturally coming together of a myriad of strands towards a poignant musical and spiritual statement of a strong antipodean composer.
Perhaps for myself this is best illustrated in relation to my early morning bush sojourn ritual. The emergent morning joy of the static bush sounds of the lower Blue Mountains breathing life with gentle moments of ecstatic birdsong joy each with in its felt presence of structure, seems to me, to speak of Clare Macleanís steely structured music of interruptive joys. This composerís characteristically dense and ecstatic musical voiceóat once steeped in the architecture of the European Cathedral choral tradition and resonances of Renaissance polyphony whilst simultaneously intensely static as if settled somewhere elseósynergizes with cathedral like resonances of east coast Australian natural bush sounds.
On a specific level, the densely contained energy of the Osanna Mass follows an organic through line from vivid movement to stasis ebbed back to life to create a sense of sure linear purpose to the music. It is as if Takemitsuís haltingly-smooth East Asian sense of flow has merged with Machuatís medieval segmented movement structure to provide smoothly evolving contrast in Macleanís music. The underlying presence of structure in the music seems to suggest the religious textual import of a subtle underlying force of higher spiritual presenceóone that broods and wishes to break through. Indeed ecstatic moments of Ďamení burst through the texture at one point in the Mass as if for no apparent reason other than ecstatic joy; perhaps it is the resurgence of her earlier Sappho fragments setting of human sensuality or the Latin textís hymn of Christian praise. Austere moments of medieval harmony flank and center the piece with a sense of inevitable voice-led raw sonority yet lingering underlying stasis as if grounded in a bush Cathedral of sound. Recording engineer Ian Stevensonís surround sound version of this at the University of Western Sydney indeed made the work reverberate simultaneously with the delicacy of bellbird bush sounds of Sydney but granite like solidness of York Minster Cathedral. The dense medieval stasis at the center of the Mass contains an achingly intense rising melodic poignancy, perhaps a type of sad longing for salvation. The outer flanks of the music contain dense polyphonic movement reverberating with the joy of extrapolated bell and bird sounds in interweaving human vocals. The Massís disciplined joy tinged with poignancy seems to ache for things above and to come.
© Bruce Crossman, September 2011
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