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Sacred Music Roundup

This new roundup looks at the best new releases in sacred music. Highlights include Libera, James Whitbourn, and the National Lutheran Choir.

"Joyful music leads us sunward in the triumph song of life!"

Penned by Henry Van Dyke, a hundred years ago, and paired with the tune from the final movement of Beethoven's "Ninth," this one phrase sums up the power of music. Whether it is instrumental or choral, classical or modern, music from within the walls of a Gothic cathedral or the walls of a recording studio, enjoyment of sacred music continues to thrive.

In this debut of a new quarterly review of the best in new sacred music, we've chosen from a variety of writers, performers, and styles from albums released in the first half of 2010. (Future editions will focus on three months at a time.)

The timeless appeal of J.S. Bach's counterpoint continues to captivate, and perhaps that's what acclaimed American violinist Hilary Hahn had in mind when she began her collaboration with the seasoned voices of Matthias Goerne (baritone) and Christine Schäfer (soprano). These artists succeed with the intricate demands required in the contrapuntal repertoire, performing 12 chestnuts from the cantatas, the B Minor Mass and the St. Matthew Passion, all delightfully rendered. The interplay between violin and voice is exquisite. From the buoyant "Laudamus Te" with its harmonious exaltation of praise to the contrasting anguish and sorrow heard in "Erbarme Dich" from the Passion, the two women work compatibly in tandem. Adding to the coloratura is Goerne's light and effortless singing in the bass solo "Der Friede sei mit dir," BWV 158. Throughout, the dialog between voice and violin is marked with a steady yet fluid approach to these inspirational texts. These interpretations showcase this prodigy (Hahn is just 31) as a performer with a keen sense of self and perfection in her art.

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