New American Choral Series: Music of Stephen Caracciolo / Cathedra Vocal Ens.; Michael McCarthy


Stephen Caracciolo writes beautiful music. However, as pleasurable as the music is of its own accord, to hear it without at the same time taking in a full understanding of the sung texts is to miss the true essence of the music. It is Stephen Caracciolo's consummate writing for chorus and the manner in which his music illuminates the text that can move the listening experience beyond enjoyable to sublime.

The music is directed by Michael McCarthy and sung by Cathedra, a professional 18 voice mixed choir formed in 2010 that is the resident chorus of Washington National Cathedral. In settings sung a cappella or with accompanying organ and, in small measure, brass quartet and timpani, the music is inspired by diverse sources from 13th century Latin hymns, through 19th century Cornish carols, the poetry of William Blake and several inspired creations of Dr. Caracciolo's own. The repertoire presented here is, in ways, similar to choral works by Ola Gjeilo, Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen, however it has relatively few of the modern sounding touches common to much of these other composers' music. In terms of general tonality, you might compare Stephen Caracciolo's settings to the popular Christmas carol arrangements of John Rutter - but the waters run more deeply here; Caracciolo's musical language is plainly more profound than what was Mr. Rutter's objective in his carol settings.

The music is largely homophonic, but is also inspired by techniques common to the Renaissance - in the many polyphonic passages for example and the way the music will often open with a solo voice or unison voices before blossoming into harmony, reminiscent of the opening cantus firmus statement common to sacred Renaissance vocal music.

Anyone who enjoys ecclesiastical choral music, or lush and engaging choral singing of any kind should really seek this out. Caracciolo's music is beautifully performed by Cathedra, and the sound engineers at Gothic Records have done a fine job in balancing the direct sound of the choir with the ambient live acoustical space of Washington National Cathedral. Few could be left unmoved by this music, and many will find it to be truly uplifting, and comforting in anxious times.