Frank La Rocca: “In This Place” – Sacred Choral Music / Artists Vocal Ensemble

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Frank La Rocca's music sounds as though it is simultaneously from two vastly different periods of music history. One foot is planted in contemporary art music, and the other in the ancient world of chant and early European polyphony. This is not new, of course. Mr. La Rocca joins the company of, among others, Gorecki, Pärt, Schnittke and Tavener in combining the music of ancient times with current compositional techniques. He does so in his own unique and effective way.

Frank La Rocca teaches theory and composition at California State University. He was born in 1951 and studied at Yale and the University of California at Berkeley. Mainly comprised of his sacred a cappella choral music, this Enharmonic Records CD focuses on the genre where he has been most active. It also includes the brief Meditation for solo piano and a trio for piano, clarinet and violin titled In This Place, which the composer describes as "a study in tonal minimalism." In this work, only the seven pitches of the Aeolian (natural minor) scale are used. Based upon a plainchant tune, it is a starkly powerful and beautiful piece.

The entire album is made up of music that unfolds slowly and reflectively. Using strong dissonances, the composer is able to underscore the meaning of the sung texts. Sometimes these resolve in the space of a few seconds but often they are suspended for much longer periods, layered over completely different musical ideas. It's an effective expressive technique which makes for a striking resolution of the meaning of the words and the harmony. Our musical sample provides some excellent examples of this.

Performances by the Artists Vocal Ensemble under conductor Jonathan Dimmock are very fine. The group is joined by the radiant soprano of Christine Brandes's in Veni Sancte Spiritus, the only track on the album that was recorded live. I've listened to and enjoyed this album many times and can confidently recommend it to any interested reader.

Frank La Rocca - O Magnum Mysterium