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On a new ECM release … two works by Stephen Hartke create a fascinating linkup between the spirit of adventure old and new. ‘Tituli’, the first and longer of the works, draws upon fragments of inscriptions carved or scratched onto ancient Roman artefacts, and expands seven of these brief phrases into complex musical structures for small vocal ensemble, a solo violin and percussion. The music itself is a haunting mix of the mannerisms of ancient chant – harmonies in the parallel movement known as organum mingled with a rhapsodic melodic line for the violinist and a background of solemn thudding from small drums and the lower register of a marimba. … The companion work is Hartke’s 18-minute ‘Cathedral in Thrashing Rain’ for voices alone, a setting of words and moods by the Japanese poet and sculptor Takamura Kotaro. Here the inspiration is a visual image, the ecstasy of the writer’s first view of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Again, the harmonies draw upon influences old and new: passages of organum which translate the look of Notre Dame’s grandiose interior into deep, dark sound, and an exhilarating sound-picture of the rainstorm itself.
Alan Rich, Los Angeles Weekly

A former professional singer, the American composer Stephen Hartke clearly has a nose for unusual but singable texts. Tituli is a 42-minute suite on some of the oldest surviving Latin inscriptions, including fragments and aphorisms, but also a nearly complete and very touching elegy for a six-year-old boy. The settings enrich the Hilliard Ensemble’s usual smooth four-voice close harmony with a third tenor, while violin and occasional percussion add extra colouristic layers. The result is strangely timeless, as if Hartke is trying to create a sort of early music of the distant future.
Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain is on the face of it more straightforward, a setting for the Hilliard’s regular quartet of a poem translated from the Japanese of Takamura Kotaro. … Hartke’s inclusion of occasional lines of Japanese, and his musical allusions to plainchant and medieval Notre Dame organum, highlight the gulfs between ages and cultures. Impeccable performances, recording and presentation enhance the effect of this fascinating disc.
Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine

American composer Stephen Hartke, born in 1952, deserves to be heard in the UK and beyond. His postmodern scores, drawing deep from the well of plainsong and also inspired by poetic and visual imagery, are strikingly original, as this revelatory disc from ECM proves from the off. "Tituli" changes the mood with lightning speed, moving from monkish incantations to wild outbursts and back again. The seven-movement work for male voices, violin and percussion sets ancient Roman texts in Old Latin, including shop signs and epitaphs. "Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain" translates Japanese poet Takamura Kotaro’s evocative impressions of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris into music that you can almost touch and smell.
Andrew Stewart, Music Week

Sieben verschiedene Inschriften – alle über 2000 Jahre alt und teilweise nur bruchstückhaft erhalten – hat der amerikanische Komponist Stephen Hartke seinem gut vierzigminütigen Zyklus “Tituli” zugrunde gelegt. Mit fragilen, nur vorsichtig aus der Stille sich lösenden Liegetönen tastet er da behutsam den Fragmenten eines geistlichen Textes von 600 v. Chr. nach, kleidet die triumphale Bilanz des ersten punischen Krieges in eine nervös bewegte, von Schlagwerk und Geige beinahe hektische vorangetriebene Klangsprache und findet in „Elogium parvuli“ ... zu Momenten von gläserner Schlichtheit.
Stärker noch als in „Tituli“ tritt der archaisierende Tonfall von Hartkes Musik in seinem A-cappella-Stück „Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain“ zu Tage, das mehr als einmal fauxbordonartige Gesten evoziert. Beide Kompositionen sind dem Hilliard Ensemble samt Mitstreitern auf den Leib geschrieben und ertönen hier in einer entsprechen mustergültigen, organische geatmeten und klangschönen Darbietung.
Marcus Stäbler, Fono Forum

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