Etherea Vocal Ensemble is proud to record for Delos Records:
Ceremony of Carols (Delos 3422)
#1 Featured Album on iTunes Classical (Nov-Dec 2011)
Six weeks on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart, peaking at #4 (Nov-Dec 2011)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 27, 2011 (Sarah Bryan Miller)
Etherea Vocal Ensemble lives up to its name, with some lovely singing. It
consists of five sopranos, two altos and a countertenor, the last of whom
doubles as artistic director. Ceremony of
Carols (Delos DE 3422) begins with a fine rendition of the Benjamin Britten
classic and concludes with John Rutter's Dancing
Day, with Charles Gounod's Noël and other works, mostly for
voice and harp, in between.
Opera News, December 2011 (Cornelia Iredell)
Those who delight in the ethereal melodies and intricate vocal lines of Benjamin Britten's carol cycle should savor this new disc. The eight women of the Etherea Ensemble, and their director, Derek Greten-Harrison (an OPERA NEWS contributor), have recently formed this chamber group dedicated to performing choral works for treble voices. Accompanied here by the proficient harpist Grace Cloutier, they present an elegant, nuanced reading of Britten's score, as well as other favorites of the Christmas season.
Devotees of the boys'–choir sound should note that the earliest version of A Ceremony of Carols was first performed by the women of the Fleet Street Choir, just a few months after Britten composed the work during a long, dangerous voyage home from America in 1942. The singers of Etherea impress the listener with their dynamic range and flexible technique, moving from single voice to ensemble in the "Procession/Recession," tossing off the rollicking measures of "Wolcum Yole" and filling the complex harmonics of "There is no Rose" with rich sound. Greten-Harrison, who sings baritone roles as well as the countertenor repertoire, is most effective in the melancholy "That yonge child." Agility and rhythmic precision mark the ensemble's renditions of "As dew in Aprille" and "This little babe," in which the contrapuntal lower voices emerge with unusual clarity. The striking and mysterious harmonic effects of "In Freezing Winter Night" provide perhaps the finest example of the singers' ability to shade and blend vibrato, and in the celebratory "Deo Gracias" they execute the bell-like sixteenth notes with admirable clarity and verve.
Other selections on the disc include Gounod's Noël, a gracefully melodic work, anchored by soprano Awet Andemicael's sparkling solo verses; several traditional carols with arrangements by John Rutter and David Willcocks; and Rutter's Dancing Day carol cycle. Standout moments in the latter include the interweaving of melodic lines with descants in "A virgin most pure," the delicacy and superb blending of tone in "Coventry Carol" and the final selection, "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day," sung with enough exuberance and warmth to see us through the coldest of winter nights.
Cloutier provides superb accompaniment throughout, and in addition to the solo
harp interludes in the Britten and Rutter, she excels in a lush, romantic
performance of Gliere's "Impromptu for Harp." Included with the disc
are informative notes on the program and biographies of the accomplished young
WFMT Chicago, December 2011 (Lisa Flynn)
*Best Christmas Recording of 2011*
singers of the Etherea Ensemble and their director Derek Greten-Harrison
specialize in the performance of choral works for treble voices. Accompanied by
harpist Grace Cloutier, they present an ethereal reading of Britten’s beloved
Christmas cycle, A Ceremony of Carols,
as well as other favorites of the season.
icareifyoulisten.com, January 19, 2012 (Lauren Alfano)
Holiday CDs come and go. Some fade out while others become lasting favorites. My prediction is that the 2011 Delos release, Ceremony of Carols, will be one of the latter. The disc marks an excellent recording debut by the aptly-named Etherea Vocal Ensemble, a group of young professionals formed in 2009 and led by artistic director, Derek Greten-Harrison.
As its title suggests, the CD presents Britten’s holiday favorite, A Ceremony of Carols (Op. 28) for treble voices and harp. Despite countless recordings of this work on the market, Etherea’s rendition stands out from the first crystalline declaration, “Hodie Christus natus est,” to the end. Captivating throughout, the singers’ clarion voices were particularly crisp and bright during the animated polyphonic sections of “Wolcum Yole” and “This little Babe.” Of special note is Derek Greten-Harrison’s fine countertenor voice which he put to good use in the haunting solo, “That yongë child”—another favorite movement from this work.
In addition to the Britten, the disc includes English holiday carols, the glorious Basque carol, Gabriel’s Message, Gounod’s Noël, Glière’s Impromptu for Harp, and Rutter’s Dancing Day. Etherea’s performance of Gabriel’s Message was especially ravishing, and the French offering by Gounod was a welcome treat.
Harpist Grace Cloutier proved equally capable as a soloist and accompanist and her warm and expressive playing complemented the exquisite vocals.
Throughout the entire disc, the vocal purity, harmonic balance, and angelic beauty of the group were superb. The soloists all sang with clear, focused, voices. Particularly memorable was the modal “There is no Rose” from Dancing Day featuring soprano Amanda Sidebottom and Derek Greten-Harrison in an impressive duet, their voices intertwining and blending perfectly. It was only one of many, many moments that left me utterly transported. Etherea has demonstrated that it is most certainly a group to watch. Their Ceremony of Carols is the perfect antidote to the winter blues and is sure to remain a seasonal favorite year after year.
The CD includes detailed program notes, translations, and musician biographies.
Choral Journal, August 2012 (Bob Chambers)
The unique and exciting Etherea Vocal Ensemble, a group of eight professional singers (seven female, one male), present an excellent selection of original Christmas compositions and carol arrangements for treble voices. Acclaimed harpist Grace Cloutier accompanies the voices on the majority of the carols, including an adaptation of the piano part of Charles Gounod’s Noël. For this work, she is joined by organist Alan Murchie.
The title piece of the collection is the familiar Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten. John Rutter’s Dancing Day, which the composer, according to a quote in the liner notes, wrote to be an alternative or companion piece to the famous Britten work, concludes the recording. In between are Rutter’s arrangement of the Basque carol, Gabriel’s Message; his adaptation of R.L. de Pearsall’s In dulci jubilo; Sir David Willcocks’s arrangements of Good King Wenceslas and I Saw Three Ships; and the lovely Impromptu for Harp by Reinhold Glière. Throughout the recording the style is impeccable and the intonation is flawless.
One is immediately struck by the tone of the group. The opening of the Britten, which begins with a soloist “to create the impression of processing while maintaining presence and clarity of sound,” displays a shimmering unison when the countertenor takes the lower octave for a moment. The liner notes also explain that artistic director Derek Greten-Harrison made the choice to use modern-day vowel equivalents of the Middle-English words “as there is widespread confusion (and variance) from choir to choir as to the ‘proper’ pronunciation.” The sound is very much like a boy choir without any of the shrillness or blatancy one often encounters from boy choirs in the upper register. According to the liner notes, each of the singers is an experienced soloist in many musical styles. That experience explains why no boy choir could equal this tone. The one exception to the boy choir sound is the Gounod Noël in which the ensemble sounds like an entirely different group, using appropriate vibrato which almost never intrudes in any of the other pieces. Here the voice of soprano soloist Awet Andemicael sounds very much like a fine Romantic opera singer, a tone that is heard nowhere else on this recording. Other soprano soloists are Lucy Fitz Gibbon (Balulalow and A Virgin Most Pure), Arianne Abela (In Freezing Winter Night), Amanda Sidebottom (A Virgin Most Pure and There Is No Rose) and Allison Holst-Grubbe (Good King Wenceslas). Contralto Heather Petrie joins Abela on In Freezing Winter Night and teams very effectively with Andemicael in Noël. Greten-Harrison sings a beautiful countertenor in That Yongë Child, A Virgin Most Pure, and in There Is No Rose. He sings excellently as a baritone in Good King Wenceslas. In addition to wonderful singing on this recording, one marvels at the breadth of expression and remarkable tone that Cloutier calls from the harp.
Lindsay Koob contributed the attractive and extensive liner notes, which are well written and very informative. The excellence of the recording may best be represented by the fact that the clarity of the harp tone is almost better than if one were present in the room. Recorded in Marquand Chapel, Yale Divinity School, the fidelity is impeccable. Even for those who are not treble choir fans, this recording deserves a hearing.
Hymn to the Dawn (Delos 3431)
#5 on iTunes Classical (January 2013)
#14 on Billboard's Traditional Classical Chart
Opera News, June 2013 (Joshua Rosenblum)
As a young man, Gustav Holst became interested in Hindu mysticism, a fascination that resulted in several major compositions based on translated Sanskrit texts. At one point, Holst actually enrolled in Sanskrit classes so that he could make his own musically suitable translations when necessary. Among the felicitous results of this study were four sets of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, a canonical sacred text of Hinduism. The third of these sets can be heard on this gorgeous new collection from the aptly named Etherea Vocal Ensemble, a group of seven accomplished female singers, plus countertenor (and OPERA NEWS contributor) Derek Greten-Harrison, who is also the group's artistic director. Holst's natural affinity for Eastern philosophy and literature is evident in these sumptuous, magical pieces for treble chorus with harp accompaniment. The first one grabs the listener right away with a series of rising fifths, each beginning a half-step higher from where the previous one ended, seemingly ascending toward a mystical realm. "Hymn to Vena," the third and most substantial of the set, features Ravelian harmonic sophistication, with fraught, whole-tone-based chords dissolving into sweeter, lusher sonorities, all serving to enhance the sense of wonder. The gossamer harp writing, sublimely rendered by Grace Cloutier, contributes strongly to these rare treasures. Two Eastern Pictures, another Holst work for the same forces, is also lovely, though not so exotic and distinctive.
Josef Rheinberger (1839–1901), whose organ works are popular, is represented by the stand-alone sacred piece "Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen" (accompanied, like the Holst works, by harp) and by the a cappella Sechs Gesänge, which, though ostensibly secular, possess a quietly reverential beauty. The unaccompanied quartet sound of four ensemble members in these pieces has a marvelous floating quality, warmly supported by the cushiony acoustics and engineering. Mendelssohn's pleasingly contrapuntal Drei Motetten provide a chance to enjoy the luscious blend of the treble voices with Alan Murchie's fluent organ-playing. (Noah Horn is the conductor for this set.) Also exemplary in combination are countertenor Greten-Harrison with sopranos Estelí Gomez and Amanda Sidebottom in the "Trio" movement of the second motet, as well as sopranos Jessica Petrus and Arianne Abela, who merge beautifully in the "Duet" movement from the third. Heather Petrie makes a quick but memorable solo contribution with her creamy contralto. Clearly, balance and tonal beauty are priorities in the ensemble work; diction is less impressive, but the consistently attractive singing (and repertoire) makes comprehensibility a relatively minor concern.
Amy Beach's Three Shakespeare Choruses, which receive their world-premiere recording here, are quite pleasant and responsive to the texts, but they are by no means the composer's most imaginative work. Rossini is represented by his Trois Choeurs Religieux, composed in 1844, long after he stopped composing operas. Religious though these pieces are, they nonetheless reveal the composer's characteristic lightheartedness and theatrical flair. Rossini, it seems, was breezy even when writing sacred pieces, as opposed to Rheinberger, who couldn't escape a certain gravely devotional quality even in his secular works. Murchie's sensitive piano-playing is perfectly calibrated. As an interlude, harpist Cloutier provides a delectable solo rendering of Prokofiev's mischievous "Prelude."
American Record Guide, May 2013 (Philip Greenfield)
The Etherea Vocal Ensemble is a group of seven female singers augmented by countertenor Derek Greten-Harrison, who also serves as Artistic Director. They sing exquisitely in this lovely program that straddles the line between the sacred and the secular. Novelty is afoot as well, as these are “world premiere recordings” of Amy Beach’s Shakespeare Choruses, Joseph Rheinberger’s 6 Songs, and the original French version of Rossini’s 3 Choeurs. Informative and engaging notes by ARG’s own Lindsay Koob will keep you apprised of all that’s going on.
The Vedic set and Eastern Pictures come from Holst’s “Sanskrit Period”, a style that mixed the composer’s Eastern inclinations with his mastery of the English choral style. Harp and voices create sparkling effects in his ‘Hymn to the Waters’; and I especially like the ‘Hymn of the Travelers’, which bends pitches Indian-style as an ancient caravan happens by.
Two of Amy Beach’s Shakespeare Songs are bathed in fairy dust from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the third (ironically) capturing some mellow sentiments from The Tempest. Some of the sweetest singing on the program happens in the Rheinberger group, with images of the Virgin and other spiritual yearnings mixed in with the composer’s expressive evocations of nature. You’ll be pleased to hear Rossini’s caloric morsels of melody spun out by these young and attractive voices. Profundity is not the order of the day, and the third song ("La Charite") is repetitious and then some; but in the end you’ll be charmed. Pretty as they are, the Mendelssohn motets sound a little wispy in Etherea’s one-to-a-part [correction: two-to-a-part] format. I prefer them done chorally. The one instrumental is the Prokofieff Prelude (Op. 12:7, originally for piano) which the harpist [Grace Cloutier] uncorks as though it were a bottle of champagne.
The engineering is excellent. Texts and translations.
TimesUnion.com, March 2013 (Joseph Dalton)
I don’t miss holiday music and try my best to avoid it. But there is one piece that I wouldn’t mind hearing at other times of the year. Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” is an elegant delight, and despite the title it doesn’t smack of carols. Maybe one of the best things about it though is the instrumentation – treble voices and harp.
That leads me to a new disc, “Hymn to the Dawn” on the Delos label, which contains a good amount of music also for women’s choir with harp. The performers are the seven members of Etherea Vocal Ensemble. Based on this new disc, the group is very well named.
Opening the program is Holst’s “Choral Hymns for the Rig Veda.” Though the name in the title refers to a Hindu deity there’s nothing particularly exotic here, just praise to the elements of nature, to the dawn and the seas. It’s slow moving and restrained music and the singing is sublime. As with the Britten “Carols,” there’s something in the long sustained sounds of the voices punctuated with the plucks of the harp that is rousing and enchanting.
The balance of the disc offers other rare and attractive pieces, including Three Shakespeare Choruses by Amy Beach, some religious works by Josef Rehinberger, who was a late Romantic from Liechenstein, and some pieces by Mendelssohn and Rossini. Ånd not everything floats along with just harp accompaniment. The more earthy organ and piano are also included along the way.
ExpeditionAudio.com, February 13, 2013 (Paul Ballyk)
The diverse choral music of Holst, Prokofiev, Beach, Rheinberger, Mendelssohn and Rossini makes for a very enjoyable program, sung by the seven women and one countertenor of the Etherea Vocal Ensemble. These eight young singers are led by their artistic director Derek Greten-Harrison on a Delos CD titled "Hymn to the Dawn". With only eight singers, and several of the works sung by a portion of that number, each voice is very exposed. Singers must perform flawlessly, as they do here, both as soloist and as part of the ensemble. It's a pleasure to be treated to such clear and gorgeous singing.
The music is not only beautifully sung, but also thoughtfully programmed. It seems to me to be in three parts. For the first, a harp plays a prominent role, followed by a middle section of a cappella singing and concluding with the choir accompanied by piano or organ. The program opens with two rarely performed works by Gustav Holst, the Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda and Two Eastern Pictures. Harpist Grace Cloutier, who is a wonderful musician, accompanies the Holst, then provides a brief interlude with a Prokofiev Prelude to be followed by Amy Beach's Three Shakespeare Choruses. In the Beach, the choir is reduced to a quartet, and every line and word is crystal clear. The middle a cappella section is music from the romantic period: songs by Josef Rheinberger and motets of Mendelssohn. In a stylistic departure from the rest of the program, the album concludes with Trois choeurs religieux for women's chorus and piano by Rossini. Not profound, but sunny and sweetly sung, reminiscent at times of the great composer's operatic choruses.
The Mendelssohn motets were recorded in Christ Church, New Haven and the rest of the tracks in the Marquand Chapel, Yale Divinity School. It is all recorded in impressive sound from the California based record label Delos, who in 2013, can be congratulated on their 40th anniversary.