all choral reviews

“The Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia assembled a whale of a mostly British music program on Sunday. It would have been great – had the performances consistently honored the music on levels that it required. As it was, the best news that came out of this season-ending concert at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion is that two of Philadelphia’s world-class composers wrote new pieces. Both were in top form, showing hugely different approaches toward the same text.

They program continued Mendelssohn’s mini-commissioning series of pieces written to the word Alleluia in honor of retired artistic director Alan Harler. For Sunday’s program, James Primosch and Robert Maggio delivered works that felt completely self contained but are full of ideas that should be continued into larger works.

Primosch’s Alleluia on a Ground began with unison vocal lines of such apparent simplicity that they could almost have been Gregorian chants. Yet subtle quirks pointed to a discreet individuality that would never have been heard in music from that world. Many vocal lines had what might be called a hinge note, opening a door into unanticipated but never radical directions. These created a web of contrapuntal writing at home in a religious text setting but going to places specific to Primosch, especially with background and foreground effects.”

-David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 3, 2016

“As director of the electronic music studio at Penn, Primosch might not seem the type to write the voice-only Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus. Yet his command of the medium was complete, with the standard Mass text meaningfully augmented with non-sacred texts by poet Denise Levertov about putting one’s trust in the unknown. Melodies were enhanced by chants with fat-free, hard-edged Stravinskyan chords and partitioned voices, including a small band of soloists physically dispersed from the larger chorus. The irony of this “doubting Thomas” work is that, unlike the turbulent religious works of his contemporary James MacMillan, Primosch has a serene, assured core that creates a less-congested contrast, putting the agony of uncertainty in higher relief.”

-David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 2, 2014


“James Primosch… generated much magic with spiralling ecstatically, to e.e. cummings’ poem.”

-David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 23, 2012


“The third work, James Primosch’s Fire-Memory/River-Memory, from 1998, sets two poems by the British-born American poet Denise Levertov. Primosch ranges freely and effectively across the tonal spectrum, holding the listener in his emotional grip even when the harmonic language becomes harsh. The first poem, “What Were They Like?”, is a series of rhetorical questions and answers, posed to victims of the Vietnam War. Toward the end, a solo violin emerges from the choral texture with poignant beauty. The second poem, “Of Rivers”, build grandly and evokes nature’s majesty, as well as the divine, metaphoric ability of rivers to “remember.” This makes an effective counterweight to “What Were They Like?”, emphasizing that the horrors of war must not be forgotten.” [on Mendelssohn Club cd recording “Metamorphosis” for Innova Records]

-Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News, October 1, 2012


“In Matins, which received its first performance, Primosch unites poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Mary Oliver. The result is a text that moves from Hopkins’s intimations of God’s presence in a broken world to Oliver’s plainspoken affirmations of God’s simple love. It’s a fine piece, beginning with a series of delicately ambiguous chords high in the strings, Pearson’s oboe twisting quizzically underneath. The work succeeds largely because of the variety of textures employed, from dense contrapuntal figures to a blaze of sound when dawn breaks at the end of Hopkins’s poem. …the oboe lines lent the music a welcome and crucial depth. Primosch showed a particular gift for choral writing: The a cappella parts were beautiful.”

-David Weininger, Boston Globe, January 27, 2004


“James Primosch’s Meditation for Candlemas… has tremendous rewards in store for everyone. In addition to Primosch’s ability to spin an atmosphere into art, it has the solid foundation of Denise Levertov’s remarkable poetry…”

-Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians,                                                                            November/December, 1997

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