CD Reviews


Fiona Fraser

"Van Ness, like contemporary composers Arvo Part and Eric Whitacre, has reinvented Medieval and Renaissance choral music in her own unique way, interspersing rich, often highly chromatic, homophonic sections with simple chants accompanied by drones and more complex polyphonic sections. Her harmonies, while sometimes plaintive and spare, build into warm conglomerates that often take surprising, but never jarring, harmonic turns... Coro Allegro's singing has a warmth and fullness of tone that matches the music perfectly... I particularly liked the rich, womanly sound of the female voices who do not deny their sex by attempting a pale imitation of boys' trebles voices (an unfortunate trend in many modern choral performances, in my opinion). To the credit of the conductor, even in the a cappella work, where descending parallel fifths and octaves must make intonation difficult, pitch accuracy is reasonably well maintained. The long extended phrases are exquisitely shaped throughout. ... There is much to recommend in this CD. It does what all good music should do: it reaches out and penetrates through the often overwhelming grief we face on a daily basis, enabling us to find the beauty and love all around us."

- Fiona Fraser Journal of the Alliance for Women in Music
Robert Hugill

"[Van Ness'] style is distinctive and both pieces on this disc belong to similar sound-worlds. Her writing is tonal and probably modal, with a lot of chant-like melodies. The basic texture consists of long held chords over which and through which weave the chant-like lines. The results are very evocative and aetherial, whilst retaining a certain intensity … The distinguished baritone Sanford Sylvan sings the solo role, quite a substantial part which again invokes chant. In style, particularly in the string writing, Van Ness's work is similar to that of the Baltic sacred minimalists, but her music does inhabit its own world. … I found the Requiem immensely involving and not a little moving. Van Ness works with relatively straightforward structures, but the end product is powerfully luminous. … The music is heavily melismatic and profoundly evocative. … An important element in Van Ness's work is monody, whether unaccompanied or over a drone. In a way this makes her music very suitable for a talented amateur choir like Coro Allegro. The unison chorus effects give the music an open throated vibrancy...which Coro Allegro brings alive. The Requiem in particular has moments of immense striving, as if the performers were struggling with the immensity of their grief. The choir's performance is impressive and under conductor David Hodgkins, captures the spirit of the music in its intensity. They and their conductor have achieved a great deal in these performances."

- Robert Hugill Planet Hugill
Grego Applegate Edwards

"In Paradisum … presents two major choral works of Van Ness, her "Requiem" and "The Voice of the Tenth Muse," the latter based on the writings of Sappho.These are works that have great accessibility and fall somewhere between the postmodernism/neo-old timelessness of Arvo Part and a bit of neo-romanticism, shorn of the cliches one can hear from those more imitative than original in this realm. David Hodgkins conducts with a fine attention to detail. Coro Allegro and instrumentalists (the latter for the Requiem) respond with verve in these performances. And the works have much to recommend them. Van Ness creates beautiful worlds of choral sound. She seems a natural to writing for voice and the music has much appeal. Choral aficionados looking for music new and good will find this disk quite enchanting."

Steven Ritter

"Though Coro Allegro is not a professional choir, they do sport some very talented amateur (in the very best sense of the word) expertise in the rendering of these fine works. One doesn’t often seek such finely-delineated phrasing and obviously well-rehearsed and carefully fashioned choral brilliance in choirs like this, but one certainly finds it in abundance in these performances... Van Ness’s style is one that likes to conjoin long chordal episodes with interwoven chant-like filigree weaving its way among the many ecstatic sections. This in itself is nothing new—in fact it is a tried and true formula that has been in place for hundreds of years. What makes it interesting is that it places the existing close-harmony, half-step chord explosions of composers like Whitacre and Part (and to some degree Tavener) in strict juxtaposition with itself. You almost feel like you are being transported to a more ancient age with this kind of schema until you realize the modernisms that Van Ness has subtly inserted into the music in a manner most alluring and somewhat deceptive. No matter—the music is warm, inviting, and optimistic, certainly everything a requiem in this day and age needs to be..."

- Steven Ritter Audiophile Audition

"Boston-based chorus Coro Allegro has just released two previously recorded concerts of New England composer Patricia Van Ness's music on a CD titled 'In Paradisum'. The result is a stellar recording of two superb compositions that one only regrets were not made available sooner. … The Requiem, composed in 2004 was in memory of Van Ness's close friend Julie Ince Thompson with the greater focus upon women's voices and the men's bass grounding accompanied by a small orchestra and noted baritone Sanford Sylvan whose solos are breathtaking. The combined forces performing here are simply wonderful and particularly memorable are passages of the "Libera me" where the women's sound hovers in vivid close harmony and sound with a boy choir clarity reflecting back on choruses of earlier eras. The effect is like an ascent to clouds and for any chorus around and yet how effortless they make it all seem. Finally the holiday season is close and I for one can not recommend a better stocking-stuffer than this CD with a choral sound that in fact might not be at all out of place on Christmas morning. In Paradisum indeed!"

Brian Wigman

"Patricia Van Ness is a composer completely new to me, and that's my loss. She writes absolutely beautiful music, with a fondness for chant-like chords and harmonies. With over 15 years of choral experience myself, this is the real deal. … [The Requiem is] a lovable and touching setting of the Requiem Mass, closer to Faure in mood than say, Verdi. It features some terrific choral writing that never lets the orchestra get in the way. Baritone Sanford Sylvan intones his cantor-like solos with a tremendous amount of conviction and dignity. The writing for the men is especially good, especially interwoven with the aforementioned solo work. A lovely piece. The Voice of the Tenth Muse is much more challenging on the ear, at least compared to the Requiem. But it also shares all of the same virtues, great choral writing, great solo work, absolutely breathtaking harmonics, and everything one looks for in choral music. Ruth Cunningham is accomplished in her rendering of a challenging solo part. The final movement is magical. Throughout, Coro Allegro shares these works with us with a genuine sense of love and discovery."

- Brian Wigman



"Words, music and performance are perfectly at one in this choral concert. Coro Allegro and the instrumentalists realize the compositions with extraordinary competence and mastery, not in a cold way, but with nuance and warmth, so that the listener can read the text and enter into an experience that is reflective and spiritual as well as aesthetic. The musicians, directed by David Hodgkins, provide a rare and expansive domain where the listener can confidently enter and give over complete attention to be awakened. … The music of Awakenings invites attending and returning to many times. The composers and Coro Allegro are faultless guides."

Grego Applegate Edwards

"There are Monday mornings when I wonder why I do what I do. Such was this one. But then I put Coro Allegro's Awakenings (Navona 5878) on my player as I begin to write up today's reviews and I am reminded forcefully that I do this for the music, the artists, the composers. … Both works are well wrought, somewhat eclectic, and performed with vivacious zeal. They show two composers well worth hearing, very comfortable working in the choral genre, soloists of world class ability, and a choral group of superlative skills. Bravo Coro Allegro. Bravo Artistic Director David Hodgkins."

Donald Rosenberg

"The two substantial works on Coro Allegro’s welcome new disc could hardly exist in more distant worlds. Robert Stern takes up the story of Moses, the golden calf and the tablets in Shofar, a haunting oratorio in four movements. Poems by Mary Oliver are the basis of Ronald Perera’s colourful and poignant Why I Wake Early, named for the last of eight sections that move from one morning to the next. Both composers season their essentially tonal language with harmonic spices but what stands out in each score is expressive vocal and instrumental writing that flows from the texts with idiomatic grace and intensity. These are deeply affecting pieces and meaningful additions to the choral repertoire. … The Boston‑based Coro Allegro, led by David Hodgkins, performs each score with fine balance and interplay. The ensemble singing is at all times keenly gauged to the emotional moment and the soloists bring vivid definition to their duties."

- Donald Rosenberg Gramophone
Jason Victor Serinus

"Coro Allegro boasts a soprano and alto section that many professional choral directors would surrender their prized baton for. Distinguished by laudable breath control and ideal intonation, Artistic Director David Hodgkins' 60-member gem of a chorus offers music making that would win applause on any stage. But Coro Allegro's triumph extends far beyond its voices. In this, its second commercial CD, the group offers four recent choral works by Boston composers, two of which were commissioned by the chorus. Not content to regurgitate the typical do-re-mi mediocrity that dominates the repertoire of many community choruses, Hodgkins has chosen work that stretches the harmonic envelope. That Coro Allegro delivers stellar performances speaks volumes for the labor and dedication that have produced such rewarding music making."

- Jason Victor Serinus Bay Windows