This [Motets], the first CD of Nick Peros’s music, was recorded and released in 1999. The music is set to religious texts, and in fact my initial impression of the disc—listening in a general way without really analyzing the music—was of choral works that sounded like a modern-day Palestrina. I believe the comparison is apt. Peros, like Palestrina, knows the secret of moving voices around within choral passages, and several of these pieces (particularly I love you o Lord) have a Palestrina-like sound. The modernity comes from his subtle use of harmonic shifting, of using not only the tonic but notes within a chord to pivot the harmony, and in this his music sometimes resembles Fauré. Perhaps this is easier to follow in a slow work like You have made known to me than in a fast-paced one like Love & faithfulness, but either way one is entranced by the way Peros’s melodic line, primarily tonal, floats over shifting harmonies. One of the most complex of them, All glorious is the princess, almost never rests on the tonic but, rather, on an augmented variant, which keeps the regular and tuneful melody going forward but never quite resolving until the very end when it finally “settles” on BΙ major. Another reason for the extra complexity of this motet is that he is balancing five parts rather than just two or four.
Peros is also adept at writing what I would term as “cheerful” rhythms and counterpoint. So many of these motets were upbeat in a way that one seldom associates with modern religious music—particularly the last one, Shout for joy, which ends with the sopranos exuberantly singing high Gs and the D below, over and over on alternate beats, for several measures at the end while the tenors and basses sing varying harmonies underneath. Most of the texts are from the Book of Psalms, with one from the book of John (He that follows me) and one from Ecclasiasticus (Blessed is the man). Peros’s use of counterpoint is also quite interesting in that it is always functional—meaning that it is wedded to text and has a specific purpose of emphasizing words—rather than being a sheer musical device. In a piece like Blessed is the man, which unlike All glorious sounds resolutely tonal and “regular,” the casual ear is led astray from the subtle and numerous harmonic shifts, so perfectly natural do they all sound. It takes a master to make the difficult easy; almost anyone can do the opposite; thus this is music of tremendous mastery.
As for the performances, they have a textural clarity about them as refreshing as it is rare. I recently complained, in a review of one choral group, that everything they did sounded exactly the same, which was mostly thick and dull, despite a perfect blend. The Renaissance Singers, conversely, have an almost crystalline sound. Every strand of the vocal parts, but especially those of the women, is clear as a bell, and both their phrasing and use of dynamics is not only masterly but sounds as natural as a mountain stream .... This is remarkable music, remarkably performed.
- Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, July/August 2012, reviewing Motets CD
... his [Peros'] music is thoughtful and unfailingly attractive, and many of these songs could be slipped into any Wolf or Britten recital without embarrassment. More than half are settings of Emily Brontë's poems, with a further three by A E Housman - a clear signal that the general mood is one of passionate melancholy, regret and despair. Cheery affairs like Awaking Morning Laughs from Heaven are a rarity! A side-effect of this fact is a degree of identity in this recital: identity, but certainly not monotony - Peros' imagination provides for enough variety in the music to maintain the listener's interest.
Indeed, songs like Her Strong Enchantments Failing, Still Beside that Dreary Water, The Sun Has Set and Virtue, to name but four, are truly memorable in their unsettling or downright chilling ambience ... soprano Heidi Klann proves to have a good, mature-sounding voice, expressive with plenty of vibrato and confidently controlled... Sound quality is good, as is to be expected from a CD overseen by Peros ... any fan of the grand Lieder tradition should find much here to enjoy.
- Byzantion, MusicWeb International, August 2012 reviewing Songs CD
Very rarely does something come along in the arts which points the way to a new vision and direction, but still remains accessible and flows with integrity and beauty. Canadian composer Nick Peros has done just that with his Motets, a new CD of 20 a cappella compositions performed by K-W's Renaissance Singers conducted by Richard Cunningham, a project which was recorded in Kitchener's St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church and supported by local patrons of the arts... (Peros music) has its roots deeply imbedded into Palestrina, Josquin and Lassus, but there is an edge here which is not found in those earlier works and this makes them anything but copies of the masters...the ingenious integrity of the melodic lines and the surprising chromatic harmonic shifts lift them (the Motets) far above the ordinary. And careful listening reveals their hidden complexities. Some are abundant in canonic imitation¬Love and Faithfulness and Blessed is the Man, for example. But this is no student attempt at counterpoint, for the modulations are skillful, unexpected yet subtle, and the sound flows without hindrance. It would be easy to dismiss the two-part Motets as nothing more than contrapuntal exercises, but the compelling sound, the ingenious chromaticism and developed melodic lines speak of the genius behind the beauty. And I in Righteousness is compelling, and The Lord Is My Shepherd can stand yet another telling. The two five-part Motets¬All Glorious is the Princess and Veni Sponsa Christi¬are remarkable in their texture, surprisingly thick without being ponderous. It is in these that Peros demonstrates his full powers as composer; for the part movement is smooth while the progressions are complex...."
- Harry Currie, The Record, Kitchener, September 23 1999, reviewing Nick Peros-Motets
In Nick Peros' Motets (Phoenix Records, 2000), composer Peros has a surprising understanding and grasp of the human voice as a tool for making impactful effects in song and texts. His motets are beautiful 2-, 4- and 5-part accapella meditations on select biblical psalms and proverbs. Through them, he displays a mastery of a long-lost art of writing accessible, serviceable, yet highly meaningful counterpunctal and fugal writing. This music somehow cleanses one's aural palate, piercing right into the soul. It is beautiful, purposeful composing. Peros writes in the...fugal form of a motet but with a modern composer's voice and contemporary mindset. These works were well presented with the pure voices of the Renaissance Singers (who, conducted by Richard Cunningham, delivered beautifully in track after track,) ringing out in a complex mesh of music making. It's a courageous move for a composer to make an .....art form such as the motet such a strong arm of his voice-especially for a first CD release. Peros does it with a complete understanding of counterpoint and a true sincerity as an artist. These musical declarations of biblical texts exist as a great meditative package in a musical form borrowed from a time when religion and spirituality was the driving force of our civilized world. So poignantly do these brilliantly conceived motets make the release of ancient biblical passages contemporary, meaningful, impactful, and relevant-each of distinct character. These motets are uncorrupted and modern, even visionary. They contain a powerful spirituality that one can only hope is contagious both to the listener and within the ranks of the choir. "He reached down from on High" was devastating in its harmonic impact. "All Glorious is the Princess" strikes a deep, highly contemporary chord where beauty of dissonance/atonality come with a glorious tune-this is consistently the order of the day in Peros' work. This music truly transports the imagination. All in all, these motets feature a mastery and wisdom of compositional grace.
- Linda Maguire, Gadfly Magazine/Gadfly Buzz, March 2001, reviewing Nick Peros-Motets
Peros’s compositional style in Songs is, if anything, even more varied than his motets. Here, as in so much of his music, one is aware of his primarily tonal style of writing, sounding at one moment like Ned Rorem, in another like Seymour Barab, in yet another like Britten, yet in the end like no one else but Nick Peros. Rising and descending chromatics are one feature of his style, at least in many of these works. Another is his unfailing sensitivity to mood and text, which in a very different way is also shown in the motets. The bottom line is that this disc introduces us to a body of work that any recitalist, looking for good contemporary songs in English, would be proud to add to their repertoire.
Indeed, listening to these songs, I was struck by how much musical and emotional information Peros packed into such brief spans of time. Unlike Schubert or Wolf, Peros doesn’t waste time repeating lyrics, either to recapitulate a particularly felicitous musical turn of phrase or to hammer home the meaning of the words. On the contrary, he makes his statement and leaves the scene—sometimes on a dangling dissonance, which is then left to the hearer to resolve if he or she wishes to. Of these 31 songs, only five are longer than two and a half minutes, and 22 of them are two minutes or less.
In addition to such usual subjects for modern English-language song as Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, A.E. Housman, William Blake, and James Joyce, Peros uses a great many poems by Emily Bronte, much better known for her novel Wuthering Heights. Discovered by her sister Charlotte after her death, Emily Bronte’s poetry has a quality best described by Charlotte as “wild melancholy.” Indeed, most of these songs—if one peruses the list of titles—are songs of melancholy. Regarding Housman, Peros notes that he “actually wrote a brief poem commenting on the sadness of his poetry—it is very hard to find a happy Housman poem.” Two of the song texts (Morning’s first light is gold and Today a bird came down to me) are by Peros himself, and these are cheerful songs as well as cheerful lyrics.
Earlier I mentioned a kinship to Britten. This is evident in songs like Tell me, tell me, smiling child and I gazed upon the cloudless moon where the quicksand-like chromaticism is not employed, yet where the primarily tonal base sounds different because the underlying harmony never really resolves in the tonic, but keeps shifting out of center.
A good example of how Peros uses pivot points to shift the tonality is She dwelt among the untrodden ways, where the singer (and the music) keeps trying, desperately, to find a home key of G, but Peros continually pulls the rug out from under it. Eventually the music just stops, unwilling to continue falling through the harmonic trap door. When a song does find a home key, as for instance the gΙ minor of Sleep brings no joy to me, Peros sustains interest by his use of short pauses that break up the rhythm if only by a fraction of a beat. This song also ends on a tone cluster, much to the surprise of the listener who was lulled into complacency throughout!
As in the case of his motet album, Peros is very fortunate to have, here, first-rate artists to interpret his music. Heidi Klann, who studied voice both in her native Canada and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, is quite clearly an exceptional singer, having a soprano voice of good range, outstanding flexibility, fine placement, and generally excellent diction. Moreover her partner, pianist Alayne Hall, is a first-rate accompanist. (How I wish that baritone Konrad Jarnot had her on his recording of Winterreise!) Thus, between them, one traverses through this recital in full expectation that they will let neither you nor the music down, and they don’t.
I cannot recommend this disc highly enough. It is a rare jewel of continually rewarding and enriching listening experiences, one that I am sure you will treasure for a long time to come.
- Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, July/August 2012, reviewing Songs CD
Canadian composer Nick Peros is fortunate to have such a fine choir perform his music: besides the ensemble's unquestionable technical accomplishment, its youthful sound and distinctively clear, bright soprano quality gives a freshness and vitality to each piece whose value to the overall success of the performances can't be underestimated. As for the music itself--and this by the way, is the first recording of Peros' work--it's full of ideas that show both an understanding of vocal writing and the mark of a well-trained student of compositional techniques... Although this fundamental mastery of mechanics and attention to precedent is fine as far as it goes, as a listener--and certainly as a performer--we're looking for music that possesses that extra level of creativity, of originality, or that just does something familiar but in some way different from everyone else. And in several of these a cappella motets, we find exactly that. One of the more successful motets is the first, Love & Faithfulness. It's not easy to write music like this--four parts, relentlessly rushing in note-and-syllable-heavy imitation--without it sounding either like chaos unleashed or just falling apart of its own incompatible complexity. It works because Peros keeps focused on making his statement and getting out--and not trying to elevate his simple idea by introducing more material...the two-part And I in Righteousness, a sensuously flowing meditation for women's voices, just carries us willingly along, the music assuring us of the text's promise that "when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness." One of the best all-around motets is the four-part I Call On You O God, which shows a skillful integration of the edgy harmonies with texture and melodic material that stands perfectly proportioned to the length and meaning of the text. Another standout is the four-part How long O Lord, where Peros gets full control of his textural, harmonic, and melodic ideas. Sometimes, when several ideas converge, as in the drone-and- flowing-melody of I Will Praise You, O Lord, the effect is starkly stunning. Peros offers some wonderful uses of chromaticism--He Reached Down From On High--and densely scored harmony; and when he focuses on just following the natural lead of a melody (And I in Righteousness), the results can be quite lovely and memorable. This kind of music can hold up to many hearings, and taken individually there are several pieces in this so-called "cycle" that could stand alone...
- David Vernier, Classics Today.com, July 2001, reviewing Nick Peros-Motets
Nick Peros is a comrade-in-arms, being not only a composer, but a record producer and promoter of classical music ... Peros is a prolific composer, his 200 works covering virtually all genres. One of them, his Isumataq Symphony, composed in collaboration with the Canadian painter Ken Kirkby, was recognized by the Canadian government in a 1993 ceremony attended by numerous governmental officials from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on down.
The three CDs under review feature Peros’s motets, songs, and solo works for piano, flute, and cello. I shall first focus my attention on the disc devoted to his motets, most of them settings of Scripture, the greater portion devoted to the Psalms. These texts have inspired him to set them to well-crafted music, as evidenced in his secure use of counterpoint in You Have Made Known to Me, imaginative canonic treatment in Blessed Is the Man, polyphony in Love and Faithfulness, homophonic richness in He Reached Down from on High, and harmonic inventiveness in All Glorious Is the Princess. In other words, Peros draws from a deep well of compositional techniques to set varying texts in moods and textures appropriate to their texts.
The Renaissance Singers [are] ... proficient at capturing the mood of each text, forming nice contrasts between one piece and the next ...
The 31 songs that fill up the second CD give a comprehensive overview of the skill of Peros as a songwriter. Soprano Heidi Klann and pianist Alayne Hall do a most commendable job in presenting these works, bringing a wide range of vocal expression to the texts and Peros’s setting of them. Klann’s voice I would characterize as rich and dramatic, with a bit of mezzo quality in it. Her vibrato is well placed and secure, and her pitch sense is dead-on. Hall ably supports her with subtle and varying shades of pianistic color, and an unerring sense of line. Peros seems to have a particular fondness for the poetry of Emily Brontë in this collection, given that 17 of the songs set her texts. Brontë’s poetry has been eclipsed by her novel Wuthering Heights, but like Peros, I find it quite moving, and worthy of her sister’s description as having a mood of “wild melancholy.” Other authors set by Peros include Dickinson, Joyce, Wordsworth, Housman, Blake, and Peros himself. The majority of the songs in this collection have a rather dark musical setting in keeping with the character of the poems, although the Dickinson poems call for a somewhat lighter treatment, which Peros has provided.
According to the composer’s notes, songs have been integral to him as a composer from the very beginning. Indeed, his first composition, written at age eight, was a song. Peros handles the setting of texts well, with considerable insight into their meaning. Consider his setting of the line, “With the summer heaven serene” from Brontë’s poem Was It with the Fields of Green, the end of the line falling off with a sigh in the interval of a second. Another example is Sleep Brings No Joy to Me, which is a lullaby, but works up to a dramatic cadence in the line “I only sail a wilder sea, A darker wave.” This is followed by a dissonance after the line “My only wish is to forget in sleep of death,” which is resolved very quietly only after a significant and extremely effective pause. These songs are undoubtedly as enjoyable to sing as they are to listen to ....
In some songs, Peros goes beyond tonality to a certain extent, such as in the ending of The Soft Unclouded Blue of Air, a song with accompanying ascending scalar patterns that culminate in a very ambiguous sonority. In other cases, he forges a literal approach to the texts, for example the darkly tolling bell sounds heard at the end of Housman’s Eight O’Clock. The whole of this recital adds up to a most impressive display of Peros’s ability in the realm of the classical art song. These songs are good enough to go into the standard song repertory, if only they were given the chance by current singers.
Soliloquies, the third disc of Peros’s music under review here, presents yet another facet of his art, that of writing for solo instrument. Included on this short (barely over a half-hour) CD are five of his Poèmes (for piano), Eden (flute), and Suite No. 1 (cello). The piano Poèmes cover a wide range of expression and technique for the pianist, sometimes taking unusual and unexpected harmonic twists and turns, and at others invoking the style of a two-part invention with running counterpoint. The drama peaks in the Poème No. 6 (the fourth of the set recorded here), wherein the pianist engages in runs requiring the crossing of hands, and these culminate in a fiery descending cascade of notes...
Eden for solo flute is Peros’s op. 1, although it is not his first composition, which (as mentioned above) was a song. His stated goal was to take a simple, single melodic line and build it up to a passionate climax before tapering off in a gentle close. In this, he succeeds well, although the notes do not indicate whether the work is meant to portray the famous garden cited in the first chapters of Genesis. The flute spins out a line that sounds at once mysterious and plaintive. Here, the recorded sound does more justice to the performer, flutist Virginia Markson, whose rendition of the work seems compelling.
The closing work is the Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello. Naturally, that title will make most readers immediately think of the seminal cello suites by Bach, or perhaps those of Britten. Like those masterpieces, Peros’s suite contrasts moods and textures, conjuring up an air of mystery in the opening movement, which contains quite a number of quadruple stops (chords using all four strings of the cello nearly simultaneously). Its harmonic movement is quite free, and not particularly centered in any key area. Movement 2 forms a significant contrast, setting a mood of joyful exuberance in its portrayal of childhood ... Movement 3 is idyllic, and to my ears progresses more convincingly than its predecessor. The fourth movement proceeds in jumps and starts, and contains more energy, reaching an arpeggiated climax. The work concludes with a movement characterized by an almost unbroken series of 16th notes in the most virtuosic portion of the suite ...
There is much fine music contained on these three CDs, but if you go for just one of them, pick the disc with the songs. It’s Peros at his best, complemented by the best performances, and the best recording—a winner all around.
- David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare July/August 2012
My biggest complaint of this, the third CD of Peros’s music, is its brevity ... Certainly the music did not let me down. Coming off his excellent album of Motets and the even more impressive CD of songs, I found this album, titled Soliloquies, remarkable in its consistently of excellence and style. In Poème No. 1, I heard his usual restless tonality combined with a steady rhythm, which focused one’s attention on the beat. In a way, it put me in mind of one of B.R. Pearson’s “loops.” I felt the piano was recorded too forward for such a basically quiet piece: you can actually hear the strings “ping” when struck. No. 2 is built around a rhythmic cell structure of q – 2 8ths – q – 2 8ths in every bar. As in the case of several of his songs, Peros’s harmony is built here around chromatics, moving in both directions, up and down.
No. 3 is another reflective piece. Here, tone clusters alternate with chromatic harmony as the key rather floats around A. No. 6 is even more chromatic, and also uses augmented 5ths in a way that humorously reminded me of “Ho-yo-to-ho.” The last Poème presented here, No. 8, has the quietest feeling and least motion, sounding almost Satie-like but again using augmented 5ths and, at one point, an altered chord sequence reminiscent of Bill Evans. It comes across as part Satie, part Evans, and part Ravel.
Eden, Peros’s only work for solo flute, passes through several keys but since it’s a single-line pece, the harmonies are suggested by the passing tones of the melody. At times haunting, at others quietly happy, Eden is, to my ears, influenced by Debussy’s Syrinx (but I’d be surprised if a modern solo flute piece that is generally tonal wasn’t influenced by Debussy). The later sections of the work sound more like Middle Eastern music, as the key hovers around D.
A cellist once told me that all unaccompanied cello suites owe something to Bach, and perhaps this is true in general principle, but in the case of Peros’s unaccompanied cello suite I hear, once again, more of a French influence and very little of the German. Perhaps the one exception to this is the very first movement. In tempo and general style, it almost seems to pick up where Eden left off, but there are many quadruple stops for the soloist reminiscent of the Bach pieces. The second movement has an almost tarantella-like rhythm, playful-sounding despite the shifting tonalities ... The third movement tends generally towards c minor, but again, the tonality is fluid, and it ends on an unresolved cadence.
The fourth movement is marked “with strength, yet hesitant.” For me, the hesitant quality, combined with a particularly plaintive melodic structure, is more prevalent than the “strength” portions, which come across as quizzical and uncertain. The fifth and last movement, marked “with exuberance,” has a feeling of liberation, but even here the feeling of exuberance is tempered by a questioning element in the music that defies categorization. Here, the upper end of the cello range is exploited more fully, and there is a remarkable passage in which rising 16ths propel the music to its finale.
Whether or not it was the composer’s intent, however, Shumas’s piano playing seemed to me more objective and less emotionally involved than the others, but all in all, the performers do well by the music. I recommend this as yet another facet of Peros’s work.
- Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, July/August 2012
Eden, for solo flute, appears to be a decent piece of music - tunefully atmospheric and mysterious ... The five-movement Suite for solo cello ... has quite a lot going for it - it is tonal with plenty of vivid chromatic colour, animated, virtuosic, varied, stylishly performed by Simon Fryer...
- Byzantion, MusicWeb International, July 2012
"Peros is certainly a composer to be reckoned with, if these settings of sacred texts, mainly psalm verses, are any indication. He understands the world of choral polyphony very well indeed and applies his understanding with imagination and taste, and to considerable effect. I would go so far as to say that no lover of choral music should be without this CD..."
- Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen, November 20 1999, reviewing Nick Peros-Motets
"These pieces are polyphonic and each part is very independent. Sometimes a voice will make an unexpected chromatic shift that at the same time seems very logical and very energizing. Above all, Peros' music is beautiful. It is beautiful, however, without being sentimental, saccharine or trite, embracing the whole contemporary human experience... the music of these twenty Motets, all settings of texts from the Psalms, reflects a contemporary sensibility, no mere imitation of bygone work, but something fresh and new."
- Allan Pulker, The Wholenote, September 1999, on Nick Peros-Motets
"The icy opening work was Northern Lights by Ontario composer Nick Peros. The chill it sends is the one we in Saskatchewan often experience in watching our familiar auroran dance of the heavens. Orchestral intensities alternate with stillnesses that crackle with the harp, chimes and triangle. The composition is in three sections that trace the buildup and explosion of the lights, then their eventual fading. It comes over as a clear tone poem which, even without its title, can convey the correct image. Northern Lights (is an ) electrically charged, exciting work..."
- David Green, The Leader-Post, Regina, reviewing Northern Lights
"Nick Peros' Northern Lights is far more complex (than the previous work on the program). It's music for a modern dance ballet depicting the Northern Lights and achieves great expressive subtlety moving from the light-hearted frolic of the awakening lights to the full majesty of the Dance of Colors with complete conviction. It was a work of texture, layers of color... and rhythmic shiftings..."
- Hugh Fraser, Hamilton Spectator, November 8 1994, reviewing the World Premiere of Northern Lights
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