Donald Rosenberg's review from the July, 2004, issue of
A Modern Take on the Choral Ballad Boasting
Vivid Writing, Vividly Sung
The music ranges far and wide on this disc of choral works by William McClelland, embracing everything from Scottish folklorism and pop to many-layered, traditional a cappella writing. Whatever the style, the composer finds lucid and evocative solutions to the challenges posed by the poems, all in English, which are set with such skill that it is almost possible to forgo the texts in the booklet.
The 14 selections range from sonnets to more extended works, including a striking ballad, The Revenge of Hamish, with words by 19th-century American poet Sidney Lanier. The narrative is violent and even harrowing, full of atmosphere and dramatic incident, and McClelland deftly employs folk elements to achieve local colour.
Elsewhere, the composer's fertile contrapuntal imagination can be heard in a varied array of shorter pieces, notably the a cappella Five Sonnets for Men's Voices, set to texts by Millay, Berryman, Aiken, E.E. Cummings and Wilbur. The last poet also provides the inspiration for A Wood, a dream of a tonal and vocal landscape with chorus and wind quintet joining rapturous, piquant forces.
The Ballad of Don and Dan recounts the tale of a homicidal father and son in Montana in 1984. Ian Frazier's text encourages McClelland to go eclectic and gospel-tinged vernacular, which he does with a winning vengeance. The story isn't pretty, but the music works.
The William Appling Singers and Orchestra perform each piece with keen attention to words, blend and phrasing, and the instrumentalists are exceptional advocates for McClelland's appealingly direct manner of expression.
William Zagorski's review from the January-February, 2005, issue of
American composer William McClelland came of age in the late1950s
and early 1960s, as did I. It was a heady time. I quote from McClellandís notes for
this release: "I was lucky to be part of a family with a wide range of musical
interests--from big band and early jazz to standards and Broadway show tunes to opera
and other classical music. During these years my older brother David and I also explored
different music and recordings on our own, listening to composers and performers
like John Fahey, Ma Rainey, Sonny Terry, Wanda Landowska, Julian Bream, Spike Jones,
Ken Nordine, Duane Eddy and Fats Domino. Once when I was eleven, David came home
after being away at school for several months and brought recordings of the Bartók
quartets and the ragtime composer Joseph Lamb. . . ." His experiences mirror
mine. My earliest record collecting was similarly wayward. I discovered Mozart, Gershwin,
The Dell Vikings, Bix Beiderbecke, Beethoven, Elvis, and Stravinsky pretty much at
the same time. In my blissful ignorance, I didnít realize that I was enjoying music
from several market-defined categories, and that those categories were supposed to
be mutually exclusive. I am happy to say that my blissful ignorance is still in full
McClelland, like so many composers of our moment, is fully at home in a multiplicity of styles, and we are treated to a wide range of them on this release--from the tonally ambivalent parallel harmonies of Song for the Rainy Season, the pop-inflections of The Ballad of Don and Dan, the rarefied hymnody (sometimes jazz inflected) of the Five Sonnets for Men's Voices and the ecologically inspired Collect Pond, the symphonic grandeur of A Wood, the offhand counterpoint of Wolf Moon . . . to the ethnically Scottish flavors of The Revenge of Hamish. Withal, a distinctively American composerís voice emerges, and it is both an imaginative and compelling one.
The Ballad of Don and Dan, inspired by a local newspaper account of a crime in Montana in 1984, and The Revenge of Hamish, motivated by a section of a 19th-century Scottish novel by William Black, are the two major pieces on this offering. Both show McClelland to be an accomplished balladeer able to sustain a prolix narrative through time. Some of this program is a cappella. Other numbers offer diverse instrumentations that deftly underscore the subtexts of the poems. In all cases, that point where language ends and music begins is magically blurred.
The choral work is excellent and the instrumentalists play with both exactitude and enthusiasm, revealing a composer who is more than worthy of our attentions.
Charles Ives pioneered this concept of integrating the pop music of his time (hymns, parlor tunes, patriotic airs, ragtime, etc.) into his symphonic creations, and here William McClelland, in his homages to the musics of our time, continues that hallowed tradition.
Heinz Braun's review from the May, 2005, issue of the German magazine
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
General Impression: 10
Choral music by the contemporary American composer and pianist William McClelland takes center stage in this recording by the William Appling Singers & Orchestra, an excellent ensemble of New York City instrumentalists and singers who are especially noteworthy for promoting contemporary American music.
In its eclecticism, McClelland's musical language is particularly American--if I may say so from a European perspective. It is drawn from widely diverse sources and is inspired by jazz and gospel, Scottish-Irish folk music, popular ballads as well as the long and fruitful tradition of romantic Anglo-American choral music. McClelland's compositional personality, however, succeeds in giving this amalgam consistency and a raison d'être. His style lends itself remarkably well to choral works, his musical means simple but no less effective, his harmonies full of energy and color. From plain, hymn-like a cappella arrangements to choral ballads accompanied by various instruments, the pieces cover a broad spectrum. The texts that are set are among the great treasures of American poetry, including works by Edna St. Vincent Millay and E.E. Cummings. Personally, I was especially moved by the closing work, Good Speaking, which presents the profoundly human message of the text in a plain yet affecting form.
The level of interpretation and the excellence of the recording are matchless, the music resounding with the dedicated passion of the singers and instrumentalists. I only wish the record label had supplied a translation of the verses. If it had, this fantastic production would no doubt be able to enthrall an even wider group of fans. A wonderful CD, one to which I will certainly listen many, many times!