The American Record Guide praised Kantorei’s recording, “Sing, Wearing the Sky,” — a collection of music by Jake Runestad.
RUNESTAD: Choral Pieces
Secret of the Sea; Alleluia; Let My Love Be Heard; Sing, Wearing the Sky; Live the Questions; We Can Mend the Sky; Fear Not, Dear friend; Proud Music of the Storm; I Will Lift Mine Eyes; Ner Ner Kantorei/ Joel Rinsema—Naxos 559892—65 min

The first program devoted exclusively to the works of Jake Runestad (b 1986) came from American Record Guide 97 Craig Hella Johnson’s Conspirare and was one of the best choral releases of 2019 (Delos 3578, N/D). This time around, Kantorei, another exceptional American choir, plights its troth with the young composer and, again, the results are exceptional. Note that five of these songs are recorded here for the first time. ‘Let My Love Be Heard’, Runestad’s achingly sad and beautiful commentary on love and loss, is the only selection to appear on both programs. So, if you were impressed with the composer the first time, you have every reason to seek him out again. If you haven’t made his acquaintance, this release is an excellent opportunity to do so. What is it about Runestad that attracts highly pedigreed choirs like Kantorei and Conspirare? For starters, his music is as rewarding to sing as it is to listen to. It is difficult (been there!), but so juicy—melodically and emotionally—that getting it into the voice doesn’t seem like work. Moreover, Runestad’s music moves unerringly to interesting and unexpected places within the confines a single work. His 12-minute Secret of the Sea, for example, is a nautical voyage of excitement, agitation, and emotional intimacy, with each distinct emotional state given direction by the violin, piano, and percussion brought on to augment the voices. To sing it convincingly, you’d better be ready to head off on a cruise. In ‘Let My Love Be Heard’, you’re grieving, surrendering to the lush harmonies surrounding you, and counting triplets like mad all at the same time. Runestad also brings out the dancer in his singers. ‘Sing, Wearing the Sky’, which begins with bending pitches from the violin evoking the wonders of India, quickly mutates into a sacred dance. Even if you aren’t light on your feet (and believe me, I’m not) it’s a delight to make the music sound that way. The last thing I’ll mention is Runestad’s connection to the words he has chosen. When waves begin crashing on the shore of life or the soul takes to the sky, the images are vivid. He’s even willing to duck out of the way to let a text take center stage. In ‘Live the Questions’, a setting of the poet Rilke’s wise and tender letter to a friend, the words emerge so lovingly that the harmonies barely breathe on them as they flow by. Wherever I look in Jake Runestad’s music, I find meaningful, engaging, and accessible ideas that make me want to sing. From the sound of things, Kantorei feels the same way.

Philip Greenfield
Listen to the album here.