Striking, intense, captivating
Charlotte Gardner 2008
Striking, intense, captivating, are all applicable descriptions of the young British composer Tarik O'Regan's music. Threshold of Night is the premiere recording of a clutch of new works for voices and strings, written since his move to New York. His aim is to reflect the cultural plurality of today’s urban environment, forging a link between the spheres of ''the ecstasies above'' and the harsh realities of life on earth. Quite an ask, but I'd say he's done it.
O'Regan is a phenomenal choral composer with a language that, whilst thoroughly contemporary and unique, draws from past choral tradition. Perhaps this should be no great surprise given his years at Oxford and Cambridge universities where choral evensong is part of the fabric of life, but there are plenty of Oxbridge-based composers who have left these rich musical pickings untapped. O'Regan's complex yet elemental-sounding music reaches for the divine with a maturity far beyond what one expects of a composer barely thirty years of age, and his settings work on several levels, translating more than just general mood. Take the two Emily Dickinson stanzas that act as the CD's bookends. A mere 1'52'' and 2'13'' in length, every note is weighted with meaning; the dense texture represents the many possible interpretations of Dickinson's words, whilst the use of a solo tenor and soprano represent the polarities in each poem (''sun'' and ''shade'', ''love'' and ''hate''). Really, it is musical literary criticism, and I mean that as a compliment because the cleverness of it all doesn’t come at the expense of emotional affect.
Another gem is The Ecstasies Above, a sprightly, texturally exciting setting of Edgar Allan Poe's lyric poem, Israfel. Then, there is a move to homophony for the arresting Tal vez tenemos tiempo, Pablo Neruda's verse about hope in a bleak world.
The success of these works is due in no small part to the technical and interpretational skills of Conspirare, Craig Hella Johnson and the Company of Voices. Their performance is ravishing throughout, and one can only hope that their partnership with O'Regan continues.