So Great A Joy - Reviews and Comments

Classical Voice North Carolina, December 21, 2002
Review of So Great A Joy (2001) and Living Mysteries (2002)

    It's December, and for two years in a row, that's meant that it's time for another outstanding CD from soprano Janeanne Houston, currently on the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. A year ago, the first of these CDs came to the Lamberts as a holiday gift, which made it too late to include among the 2001 holiday record roundups. This is a Christmas CD, but its contents depart radically from the norm, and as a result it may be enjoyed year-round. Some of the well-known composers – Britten, Vaughan Williams, Thompson, and Barber – are represented by one (or more) familiar works, but the program includes a raft of other, rarely-heard pieces, and all are united by the beautiful voice and stunning interpretive skills of a magnificent singer and her supporting artists. There are many treasures here, and although everything was composed in the 20th century, the music, as befits the texts (included in the booklet), is by and large restrained. For a decidedly different Christmas CD that will surely inspire repeat listenings, this is highly recommended.

    The second CD, made in 2002, showcases Houston in still more sacred and seasonal fare. Arias by Bach (from Cantata 52), Haydn (from The Creation), and Mozart (from the Great Mass in C Minor) set the stage, artistically and spiritually, too, for the world premiere recording of WFU-based Dan Locklair's Three Nativity Songs (1978), for soprano and string quartet. A solo-voice and piano version of Morten Lauridsen's ubiquitous "O Magnum Mysterium," published in 1999, casts new light on one of the most sublime choral works of the 20th century. Houston, Kelly, and Terpenning then deliver a performance of Frank Martin's Trois Chants de Noël that will allow older collectors to retire their 1966 Lp featuring Elly Ameling (with the composer himself) – this new reading is that good. Three autumnal vocalises by Vaughan Williams for soprano and clarinet are virtually unknown, and Fauré's "En prière" is one of that master's few songs without an opus number. The CD ends with Barber's "Lord Jesus Christ," from the Prayers of Kirkegaard, and a selection from Finzi's Dies Natalis, which happens to be, basically, a Baroque cantata in modern guise. This serves as a wonderful cap for this program, which begins with Bach, and it concurrently links both of these CDs as well, since two other excerpts from Finzi's exceptional work appear in the earlier release. What Houston has not recorded from the Finzi, as of now, are the Intrada and Rhapsody, so we can hope that there will eventually be a third CD from this singer that will include those missing sections and much, much more, as well.

    North Carolina readers may be particularly interested in Locklair's early songs, since he is based in Winston-Salem; his many contributions to our cultural lives here include service last summer as Composer-in-Residence at Brevard, for details of which, see our feature archives. Triangle readers with long memories may also recall Kelly, who was educated at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he was a student of the late, great William S. Newman.

    In closing, these CDs probably would never have been made, back in the era when big recording companies controlled artists and repertoire with iron fists. Music lovers, artists, and composers all benefit from the sea-change in the industry represented by these releases, and it is the hope of this writer that Houston's efforts will be rewarded with good sales. Check the website listed in the headnotes for ordering information.

John W. Lambert
link to review

Seattle Times, November 23, 2001

    "'So Great a Joy,' soprano Janeanne Houston (Elmgrove Productions; local record stores or Janeanne Houston's clear, richly shaded soprano illuminates this unusual collection of 20th-century British and American songs, carols and other works of the season, with pianist Michael Kelly and several assisting artists.
    Houston has chosen selections from Finzi's "Dies Natalis," Barber's "Sure on This Shining Night," carols of Vaughan Williams and Howells, and several works of Northwest composers — such as William Bergsma, Alan Hovhaness and James Holloway. Holloway, Houston's late colleague on the Pacific Lutheran University faculty, is the dedicatee of this disc, and was originally to have been the pianist. Houston's CD, with its thoughtful choices and lovely singing, is a remarkably fine tribute."

Melinda Bargreen, music critic
link to review

The News Tribune, December 04, 2001

    "Houston's voice is generous and well-tempered, and Kelly joins flutist Rae Terpenning and oboist Shannon Spicciati in providing colorful accompaniment.
    The CD is not festive, but it has other qualities to recommend it, and definite high points.
    One of those is the very first song, a melancholy tune by Andrew Carter called "Mary's Magnificat."
    The resolution at its end is almost difficult to believe, and the song has the same sense of ambiguity that makes this record so moving. It is a celebration of Christ's birth, but there are clear traces of loss and sorrow.
    A strain of beautiful regret runs through this record, from Hovhaness' "Christmas Song (Watchman Tell Us of the Night)" to Britten's beguiling "The Birds," based on a poem by Hilaire Belloc.
    Houston's reading of "O Gloriosa Domina" by Michael Head is delicate and understated...
    Overall, this CD tells a story of love that does not deny pain. It's a true story for any season."

Jen Graves, arts critic

    "Oh, thank you for such a wonderful evening. Listening to your recording brought such joy the other evening. My only regret was I had to keep pushing the repeat button on my player in order to hear your sublime singing of the Michael Head refrain at the end of the verses. Gloriosa indeed." 

Dr. James Savage, Music Director
St. James Cathedral, Seattle

    "I received your CD, "So Great a Joy," with much pleasure this afternoon and immediately put it on. Even greater joy! What a lovely voice, and what splendid care and taste! Particular thanks for introducing me to Michael Kelly's fine playing."

David Burge, pianist/composer

    "What a *gorgeous* CD you've made! Truly "high art" seasonal X-mas music! It has been the soundtrack to the opening of our "season" at home!"

Dr. Gregory Youtz, composer

    "Many thanks for sending your kind letter and splendid CD, "So Great a Joy." ...I have very much enjoyed listening...The voice is lovely with musicianship and experience to match."

Andrew Carter, Composer/Conductor

    "I just finished listening to your absolutely beautiful CD, So Great a Joy, which I received today.  The selections you made, the sensitivity with which you approached them, the beauty of your voice.... I am overwhelmed.
    It is such a privilege and honor to Jim's memory to have his composition "Love is the Name He Bears" included....
    As I listened, I tried to pick a favorite piece, which I could declare to you.  At the end, I am unable to do so because I genuinely connected to each piece.
    Thank you for such beauty."

Judy Carr, wife of Jim Holloway 

Personal comments used with permission.