Under conductor and artistic director Charles Bruffy, the Kansas City Chorale has established itself as an ensemble of international importance. “Artifacts: The Music of Michael McGlynn,” offers another example of its musical adventurousness.
At close to seven minutes, “Jerusalem,” the seventh track on “Artifacts,” is the longest. The song, infused with Irish melody, casts a transportive spell, with lyrics in accordance with that mission:
Jerusalem our happy home
When shall we come to thee.
When shall our sorrow have an end?
Thy joy, when shall we see?
Arguably, it’s the most beautiful selection on an album that takes listeners about as far away from the realm of ephemeral and market-driven pop music as they can possibly get. The track also conveys the feel of a live performance — which, in the liner notes, Bruffy states as one of his goals.
Bruffy notes that “Jerusalem” is “always performed by the women of the Chorale moving around the room in a continuous circle, and (that) placing microphones and achieving the perfect balance was quite a task.” But the recording engineers met the challenge.
Indeed, simply as a sonic experience, “Artifacts” is a joy to listen to — the kind of album that provides a welcome escape from the noise of modern life. The Chorale’s mellifluous voices are captured to glorious advantage on 20 songs, most of them composed or arranged by McGlynn, founder of the Ireland-based choral ensemble Anuna. The program flows with a blend of gravitas and grace.
Three of the selections feature both words and music by McGlynn: “Song of the Wind/Amhran na Gaoithe,” “The Wild Song” and “One Last Song.”
“Song/Amhran,” inspired by fragments of melody heard by fishermen and their families, is a perfect vehicle for the Chorale: haunting and ethereal, with a simple beauty that the listener can’t help but find enchanting.
“The Wild Song” highlights the voices of soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, mezzo-sopranos Paula Brekken and Jennifer Weiman and tenor David Adams. McGlynn’s lyrics evoke the windswept majesty of the Irish landscape:
There the dawn is wide with the scent of spring
With a red sun burning on the tide.
In the hazel forest the blackbird sings
Of a secret place I keep inside.
Some of the pieces are sung in Gaelic languages, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent. The skill and feeling that the Chorale brings to these works is as much about their sound as their sense. And the sensibility of the performances is grounded as much in contemporary as in traditional sensibilities.
The album concludes with the ballad “Danny Boy,” a warhorse whose inclusion in the program might prompt questions or even disappointment. But in McGlynn’s arrangement, the track is very much in the spirit of all that has come before. It’s hard to imagine a song more closely associated with the Irish people, and the Chorale approaches it with all the awe and reverence that it deserves.