courtesy of Naxos of America
A little over a week ago, Delos released its third recording of Cappella SF, an a cappella chamber choir based in San Francisco (as its name implies), conducted by Ragnar Bohlin. The title of the new album is Timeless: Ten Centuries of Music, which also happens to have been the title of the concert that Cappella SF presented in October of last year. However, the recording sessions for this album, engineered by David Bowles’ Swineshead Productions, took place on either side of this performance, in both June and November of that same year.
As one may guess from the title, the album is basically a historical anthology with the selections presented roughly in chronological order. The description on the Amazon.com product page (once again under the Editorial Reviews header but actually appropriated from the Naxos of America New Release Guide) states that the album “offers choral fans and history-minded classical music aficionados a rare smorgasbord of choral compositions encompassing every musical period of the past millennium.” While I would suggest that the determiner “every” is a bit too hyperbolic to be accurate, there is definitely a generous amount of scope in the fourteen selections of this album. With Hildegarde of Bingen (one of the liturgical songs from her Symphonia armoniae celestium cycle) as the first track, the repertoire gradually approaches the “immediate present” with the world premiere recording of Ola Gjeilo’s setting of the “Veni Sancte Spiritus” sequence.
Those who have followed the way in which I track the release of recordings probably know by now that I prefer “going deep” to “going wide.” For example, where Hildegarde is concerned, I made it a point to acquaint myself with all nine CDs that Sony reissued as its Hildegarde von Bingen Edition. This was not just a matter of being thorough. Every composer, through his/her compositions, establishes his/her own “ground rules for listening,” rules for which “musical period” is far too broad an approach to categorization. Just as my father used to like to say “One is not a statistic,” those ground rules can almost never be inferred on the basis of a single sample.
On the other hand for those who prefer breadth to depth, the selection on the album is definitely impressive for the scope of its variety (even if it does not encompass “every musical period”). Thus, even the casual listener can come away with a sense of just how significantly things changed as practices of making music progressed from Hildegard to Guillaume de Machaut to Carlo Gesualdo and then to Heinrich Schütz (by which time we have advanced only to the middle of the seventeenth century, prior to the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach). At this point the chronological gaps begin to widen, probably through a desire to give a fair account to the twentieth and current centuries, even if it involves short-changing the eighteenth and nineteenth. Nevertheless, my personal feeling is that, if one is going to “go wide,” then this is the way to go, since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries tend to be “havens of familiarity” for most listeners. To the extent that the mission of Timeless was to offer up new encounters, it has succeeded admirably, admirably enough that, even with my own preference for depth, I definitely see myself returning to it for further listening experiences.