Gramophone Magazine
October 2019 – Awards Issue
RUNESTAD: The Hope of Loving

‘To be calm, to be serene!’ writes Henry David Thoreau at the end of his poem ‘Reflections’, the first text set by Jake Runestad in his American Triptych (the other poems are by Wendell Berry and John Muir). Thoreau’s words go far in encapsulating many of the works on this first full disc of the American composer’s music, especially as performed by the sterling Austin-based choral ensemble Conspirare.

Runestad has wedded exquisite music to tender, spiritual and nature-orientated verses by historical figures and an eloquent living poet, Todd Boss. The composer’s style is lyrical, replete with soaring phrases and rich harmonies coloured by suspensions and, in this programme, deft choral techniques. More than a few selections are remarkable for the hushed intensity that embraces a plethora of thoughts and feelings. Runestad is also gifted at word-painting, as in the motion of the sea depicted in Waves (text by Boss) and the rhythmic flights in Why the caged bird sings (Paul Laurence Dunbar).

The disc’s title is taken from the cycle The Hope of Loving, six selections (one purely instrumental) for chorus, solo voices and string quartet. Runestad’s settings from various sources exude warmth, vitality and empathy, the latter beautifully conveyed in ‘My soul is a candle’ (St John of the Cross), the titular poem (Meister Eckhart) and the final ‘Flower of Kindness’ (Mechthild of Magdeburg, Peter the Apostle and Rabindranath Tagore).
In all of the repertoire, Conspirare founding artistic director and conductor Craig Hella Johnson draws lustrous and controlled artistry from his choristers, and the excellent soloists connect elegantly to Runestad’s humane creativity.

-Donald Rosenberg

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