The Harvard Concise
Dictionary of Music defines a chorale as “a hymn tune of the German
Protestant Church. Martin Luther, an accomplished musician himself, considered
the chorale a pillar of his reform movement and played a very active part in
building a suitable repertory of texts and melodies. The chorale harmonizations
of J.S. Bach continue to be used widely and are regarded as models for the
writing of tonal harmony in four parts.”
It is the latter segment of the definition that composer
and saxophonist Rob Mosher says inspired him to write the thirty-one chorales
in this album. Mosher’s official bio explains that he is a “melodic, lyrical
composer and performer...a musician well versed in the jazz and classical
worlds, committed to furthering the growth and combination of the two.
Specializing on soprano sax, English horn and oboe, Mosher is a proven creator
with a uniqueness of voice and an interest in exploring genre fluidity.” To
celebrate his thirty-first birthday, Mosher decided to compose thirty-one
chorales in thirty-one days, the results of which we hear on the disc,
interspersed with a half dozen other pieces, thirty-seven tracks in all. It’s
an ambitious project, to be sure, and one that in large measure succeeds.
Each of Mosher’s chorales, like Bach’s, is brief, most of
them clocking in at two minutes or less. All the same, when you have so many of
them, they tend to provide a good variety of material. He has devised four
parts per work, performed by himself on soprano sax, Micah Killion on trumpet,
Peter Hess on bass clarinet, and Nathan Turner on tuba. They combine to provide
something like the sonority of a church organ, appropriate in keeping with the
Bach theme. The tunes are mostly melodious, harmonious, and sometimes playful.
If there is any hesitation in my appreciation for these
pieces, it is that there are stretches where the music begins to sound rather
dirgelike and the same, occasionally lacking in ultimate spirit or invention.
Then, just when you think perhaps you’re in for seventy minutes of pleasant
tedium, along comes something like Chorale
No. 5 or March March, which verge
on humorous parody and are kind of fun after the solemnity of the first
From here, you’ll begin to hear bits and pieces of
familiar tunes among the thoroughly original works, as though Mosher were
taking a cue from Charles Ives. Then he falls back on a sort of sameness of
spirit that again becomes a little tiresome. Still, it’s the kind of adventure
I wish more composers would attempt.
Choral No. 9 is
especially lovely; and the Prelude in C
minor makes a nice change of pace, with its lilting grace and prominent
trumpet solo. With Chorale No. 16
Mosher reminds us of the Christmas season; with Wagon Wheels the way West; and so on. A little something for
everyone, including a particularly clever Wondersong,
thumbs up! The program ends on a quiet note, almost a lullaby. Nicely done.
Recorded in March of 2011 at the Episcopal Church of Saint
Mary-in-the-Highlands, Cold Spring, New York, the sound is close, full, and
lightly resonant. The recording captures well the inherently mellow richness of
the four instruments, turning them almost into one, given their similar tonal
qualities. There is a degree of soft warmth about the sound that probably will
not satisfy every audiophile, but it seems in keeping with the music and the
nature of the performances.
I understand Mosher initially released these chorales one
at a time on the Web, and he is now making them available separately or
together as a download or on a CD at iTunes, Amazon, and the like. You can
learn more at Mosher’s Web site: http://robmosher.com/.