Living Mysteries - 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, December 15, 2002

    "Living Mysteries, Janeanne Houston:  The well-known local soprano, who teaches at Pacific Lutheran University, has recorded an unusually nice set of chamber works for soprano, winds, strings and keyboards in wide-ranging repertoire.

    Houston's bright, clear soprano negotiates the challenges of of Bach and Haydn arias, Mozart's "Et Incarnatus Est," and a charming new set of "Three Nativity Songs" by Dan Locklair with considerable alacrity. She soars in a particularly fine reading of Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium," and makes some lovely points in Vaughan Williams' seldom-heard "Three Vocalises for Soprano and Clarinet" (the latter well played by Craig Rine).

    It's not a Christmas disc per se, but there are lots of Christmas-themed selections - and the singing and playing are excellent enough to enjoy year-round."

Melinda Bargreen, music critic
link to review

    "A *very* beautiful performance of the "O Magnum Mysterium."  Lovely throughout. Congratulations to you and Michael, and to all the instrumentalists for an excellent CD."

Morten Lauridsen, composer

    "What a wonderful voice you have and your musicianship is, quite simply, first-rate! It was a treat to hear you sing for the first time last evening on your brand new CD, 'Living Mysteries.' Not only did the recording contain an outstanding performance of my early THREE NATIVITY SONGS for soprano and string quartet, but each piece on your beautifully programmed and recorded CD was performed in a top-notch manner. Your bell-like soprano quality, excellent diction, flawless intonation and overall solid technique all combine to reveal an artist of very high standards. Coupled with the obvious heart and soul that is at the essence of your music-making, you are rightly elevated to the level of a truly exceptional artist.

    Congratulations and thanks again for the obvious care that you gave my music."

Dan Locklair, composer of "Three Nativity Songs", a world premiere on "Living Mysteries"

Personal comments used with permission.