Hymns for Private Use
Akropolis Reed Quintet; Shara Nova
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0180 (brightshiny.ninja)
The Akropolis Reed Quintet are at it again. What a terrific ensemble, and what a distinctive blend. Like Ghost Light (reviewed April 2021) this disc responds to the group’s home town, Detroit, in a musical offering giving back to their community.
The material consists of two works, one by celebrated American Nico Muhly and one by Annika Socolofsky. Muhly’s Hymns for Private Use comprises five settings of devotional texts from the 4rth century through the 19th. Soprano Shara Nova is a sixth reed in the mix, so well do she and the instrumentalists blend. The texts are haunting, especially when one considers the span of ages through which poets and mystics have addressed verses to an imagined or real creator. Two overtly Christian texts, Virga Rosa Virginum and Sleep address Mary and Jesus respectively. The Holy Spirit, written by Anne Steele (who used the nom de plume Theodosia) in the 18th century is interposed between them. The final two texts (An Autumnal Song and Hark the Vesper Hymn is Stealing) were taken from an American songbook for schoolkids. Muhly gives these two quite a dark treatment; the cycle ends by sowing more doubt than faith. But the performances along this descent are beautiful, especially An Autumnal Song, which starts in a searching a cappella, the winds meeting the voice at the second stanza.
Hymns is followed by an extraordinary piece by Socolofsky on the latter half of the disc. The players accompany a series of personal stories, fragmented and overlayered at first,each detailing in their own voices what it has meant to them (all citizens of Detroit) to open and manage their private businesses. The title – so much more – describes how each has come to feel about their experience, and the context becomes clearer as the five sections unfold. Ultimately not so very much a musical as a textual work, the accompaniment bridging the stories alternately delicate and forceful, although the fourth of five tracks is an instrumental interlude where lyrical lines are stitched through with rapidly repeated notes. As it ends, with the words of the title spoken over gentle chords, one realizes this is also a set of prayers.