Performers: The Crossing, Donald Nally
Released: 2017 Navona Records
“From the Wingbone of a Swan”
“Canción de el Alma: En una Noche Escura”
“We Bloomed in Spring”
“Alma Beata et Bella”
Edie Hill composer
The Crossing | Donald Nally conductor
The choral music of Minnesota-based composer Edie Hill shines on CLAY JUG, a compendium of large and small works for a cappella choir and choir accompanied by chamber ensemble. Though the works featured on CLAY JUG vary in scope, they all demonstrate Hill’s keen sensitivity to ensemble texture and harmonic density, as well as the incorporation of text across four languages.
In CLAY JUG, Hill excels at shifting the listener’s perspective as they listen to the choir. In the most straightforward cases, such as in The Fenix, Hill moves the choir in between the music’s foreground and background to accommodate a vocal soloist. More dramatic is what happens in From the Wingbone of the Swan and “Clay Jug” – an excerpt from a large work of Hill’s entitled A Sound Like This – wherein three or four musical layers converse within the choir itself, or between the choir and accompanying instruments.
It is obvious in the works on CLAY JUG that Hill has a strong connection to the texts she sets. Three of the album’s works – The Fenix, Alma beata et Bella and Cancion de el Alma – draw their texts from very old European sources dating back to the 10th, 15th and 16th centuries, respectively. Hill does not necessarily modernize these ancient words in her settings of them, but she succeeds in meaningfully personalizing them through her musical language.
Along these lines, Hill describes the influence of the language these works’ texts on their aesthetics, particularly in the case of The Fenix, which uses its poetry’s original medieval Anglo-Saxon language. Similarly, Alma beata et Bella seems to make homage to Renaissance-era musical tropes contemporaneous to its text’s origins, but, in both works, Hill’s individual voice comes through with only slight alteration.
The works on CLAY JUG feature a musical language that pairs beautifully with choir, employing dissonance with care and purpose, as well as freely shifting texture to serve Hill’s compositional designs.