There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
This new release from experimental nouveau/early music label New Albion at first listen presents an interesting aural quandary. The three works on the album are based on medieval structures and forms: the motet, the madrigal, and the intermezzo, but the actual music itself employs modern tonalities. Composer Robert Kyr has cunningly combined the vocal forms of yesterday with 20th-century harmonic technique. The result is pleasantly surprising, although those listeners expecting the traditional modality of Guillaume du Fay or Pérotin might be somewhat dismayed. Kyr’s writing retains many traits of early polyphony and organum, his use of modes and melismatic passages heightening the ancient aura of the works—but modern dissonances are also freely used. The members of Ensemble Project Ars Nova are apt interpreters, gifted in rendering Kyr’s simple lines with clear, bell-like intonation. The first work, “Threefold Vision,” is a set of three motets set to multilingual texts drawn from the works of Rimbaud, St. John, and Hildegard von Bingen. The simultaneous use of two languages harks back to the early Middle Ages, when the combination of Latin with French in secular motets was not uncommon. In the second work, “Songs of the Shining Wind,” lute and vielle (a type of hurdy-gurdy) join the three-voice ensemble, and are featured in a well-executed intermezzo. Using texts from various sources around the globe, including Apollinaire and Niu Hsi Chi, Kyr enhances the mysticism of these love verses with spare settings. The final work, “Unseen Rain,” which includes a chorus and chamber ensemble, is a dramatic ode to the joys of music, based on quatrains by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. From a sedate instrumental prelude the work expands into a choral hymn with a solo countertenor playing the part of a prophet and the chorus his congregation. The beauty of music is further explored through the songs of two lovers, who join with the prophet and chorus in a climactic finale. There is a meeting of two worlds, the old and the new, in this album, and Kyr finds a delicate balance in his cautious integration of the best qualities of both.—Amy Domingues