I looked at the rather drab cover. I had never heard of the Quince Ensemble nor any of the composers featured on this disc. I looked again at the cover. Clearly it was labeled with one of those parental advisory warnings which one rarely sees on a classical recording.
My usual practice is to do some research before spinning a given disc but I decided to just put this one in the CD player cold. I had about an hour’s drive ahead and I decided to just let the disc speak for itself. But my spidey sense suggested I might be in for a rather dull listen.
So much for my superhero powers. From the moment the first track played I felt drawn in. What I heard seemed to be a mixture of Peter Kotik (of Many, Many Women in particular), Meredith Monk, a touch of La Mystere de Voix Bulgare, the west coast group Kitka, and a few others). That is to say that this disc grabbed my attention and had echoes of a few other contemporary vocal music styles. What I heard was very compelling, creative, practiced, passionate.
This is mostly an a capella group though they made very effective use of harmonicas as drone material at one point. Even after reaching my destination (achieved before the disc ended) I couldn’t bring myself to shut it off so I stayed parked and listening til I had heard the entire disc. Yes, it was THAT compelling.
Complicating the reviewer’s task further is that the disc contains four compositions by four composers whose first appearance on this writer’s radar was from this very disc. All four are world premiere recordings and all are by women composers.
The Quince Ensemble consists of Liz Pearse (soprano), Kayleigh Butcher (mezzo soprano), Amanda DeBoer Bartlett (soprano), and Carrie Henneman Shaw (soprano). And this is the fourth album dedicated entirely to this ensemble’s work. Two previous albums were appearances and collaborations.
The featured composers are (in order of their appearance on this release): Gilda Lyons (1975- ); Laura Steenberge; Cara Haxo (1991- ); and Jennifer Jolley (1981- ). All appear to be Calfornia based and at the beginnings of what will doubtless be some interesting careers. I will leave it to the interested reader to look into the details available at these various web sites but, after listening to the music, most listeners will want to know more.
The pieces range from Lyon’s Bone “Needles” coming in at just over 4 minutes to the next two multiple movement pieces and finally Jolley’s “Prisoner of Conscience” which is an homage to the politically active musical group, “Pussy Riot”. This is the longest and most political piece on the album.
From the initial (and incorrect) assumption that this would be a dull disc to the end of this listening journey I came to see this disc in quite a different light. The cover now seems friendly and appropriately representative of the album.
Rather than go into a bland or potentially inaccurate analysis of these pieces suffice it to say that this is effective and affecting music by a delightfully talented and energetic ensemble. If you like vocal music, political music, music by women, or are just looking for something to lift you from your daily malaise give this one a try. You will be both challenged and entertained. No doubt this group would be fantastic in a live performance but for now we shall have to make do with this wonderful recording.