Review: Vox 3 Collective, Songs & Cycles from Chicago

Vox 3 Collective, Songs & Cycles from Chicago

13 Aug, 2013 Kelly O'Neil

The six-year-old Vox 3 Collective in Chicago has no qualms about debuting modern classical works with rich cultural roots of the Victorian age to song about an incidental event that happened last week.  New Song: Songs & Cycles from Chicago offers a taste of the diverse offerings from these talented young people who not only compose and perform original works but also strive to educate and pursue the art of music through public recitals and recordings.

Paying homage to the group’s hometown, the album opens with a rare ensemble effort entitled “There Must Be Names.”  The majority of Vox 3’s works are for solo voice; however, this song employs a six part divisi chorus with solo soprano, Laura Pinto.  Local poet Aaron DeLee provided the text and the group’s Artistic Director and album producer Brian von Rueden composed the music.  The piece hints at the many comings and goings of a large urban environment namedropping the two busy Chicago airports and the mass of humanity that inhabit the many high-rises that tower into the night sky.

“Chicago Songs” are taken from a collection of Pulitzer-prize winning poet Carl Sandburg’s works and set to music by Eric Malmquist.  Baritone Sean Stanton is the soloist and gives a fine performance with his warm voice and strong presence accompanied by Music Director James Morehead.  The first piece, “Anna Imroth,” opens with quiet piano chords gently sighing in groups of two as Stanton breathes life into Sandburg’s text that subtly takes an emotional stab at industry that takes little heed to its low income workers welfare.  “A Fence” is a more grandiose work with a showy piano introduction and sweeping lyrical lines that ultimately slinks quietly away.  The most intimate piece of the collection is “Happiness” with the piano modernly swirling independently of the vocals yet perfectly complementing the contemplation and reflection of the text.

Morehead teams up with Programming Chair Ashlee Hardgrave in the creation of the “Morning Commute” song cycles.  These seven short pieces are each dedicated to a different train of the Chicago Transit Authority’s and employ a unique poetic setting for each as well.  The soprano elicits a variety of vocal styles from spoken work to lofty whoops, to free flowing, to quick enunciations sprinkled with a wee bit of crassness.  Morehead’s piano style ranges from a frantic Gershwin jazzy romp, to minimalistic, to placid.

An accomplished vocalist, Hardgrave has commissioned many works including “Sonnet Study” with two of William Shakespeare’s sonnets set to music by Matthew Lawton.  “Sonnet 30” is a busy piece with Hardgrave again working with Morehead as the two musicians beautifully meld their complex moving passages together.  The two are constantly vigilant of the other’s part resulting in a perfect balance.  Highlighting the piece is the piano’s punctuated ascending eighth notes before the final couplet and a lofty soprano conclusion.  Equally as nice is the beautiful “Sonnet 40” with each verse more dramatic than the next.  Another song cycle specially commissioned was “The Lake” by Randell E. Moore for soprano and Company Manager Kimberly Gunderson.  She brings an exciting energy to the songs and has excellent enunciation specifically in “Credo”.

Continuing in the showcasing of new American compositions, DeLee commissioned a song cycle for baritone von Rueden accompanied by General Manager Myron Silberstein entitled “Iconic Waltzes”.  This collection elaborates upon a variety of infamous American female personalities including NPR correspondent Terry Gross in “Questions are Keys” to Dolly Parton in the aptly titled and bouncy lilt “Dolly.”  The longest track on the album is the solemn “No Need to Talk it Out” about the late Karen Carpenter.

As evidenced many of the members of Vox 3 Collective not only perform but compose as well.  Soprano Elizabeth Rudolph wrote the music and debuted “Orange Elevators” about the emotional turmoil of visiting a loved one at the hospital while soprano Alison Wahl did the same for “I Work” extoling the mundaneness of working in an office.  Wahl also composed music set to beloved American poet Emily Dickinson’s works in “Dickinson Songs.”  The lovely piano settings played exquisitely by Morehead create an ethereal effect and decorate the lyrics appropriately.

New Song: Songs & Cycles from Chicago is a grand collection of new vocal music performed by an array of fresh talent who find muses in their hometown and in historical culture as well.

Reviewers Name:     Kelly O’Neil
Rating:   4 stars