Richard Toensing : Kontakain on the Nativity of Christ
Recorded by the Capella Romana
by Mark Nowakowski
Richard Toensing's Kontakian on the Nativity of Christ presents us with a unique offering amongst the selection of Foundation music reviews. Toensing's aim is to reconcile the sounds of the Eastern tradition with American hymnody, and he does so admirably.
As the work was specifically meant for the English language, clarity of text seems a specific concern of the composer. Indeed, even at its most contrapuntal or harmonically dense sections, the individual words remain consistently clear. As such, aside from being a feast for the ears, Dr. Toensing has offered us a truly prayerful work.
Toensing's handling of dissonance is particularly effective, specifically at moments when the primary text and accompaniment materials differ radically in their harmonic material. Even at its most dissonant, the music is never jarring, providing an ideal setting for the soaring melodies that emerge so naturally in Toensing's music.
We were also very pleased to discover the Capella Romana, a definitively American choir despite its exotic name. Their work on Toensing's Kontakian presents a high level of musicianship and preparation along with a palpable reverence for the religious intent of the music. The Capella Romana certainly have earned the right to greater public attention and acclaim with their work on this recording.
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