June 1st, 2016
Greg Starr has a varied and interesting background in music, from transcribing the debut album of Milli Vanilli (the once famous lip-syncing duo) to working with Mr. Rogers, one of my childhood favorites. Cantum Laudus is a collection of fourteen interpretations of hymns and songs of praise dating from the middle ages to the early 20th Century. I admire the fact that several lesser known hymns are also included. I think it’s important to note that the artist’s goal for the album was to focus on the musical content of each hymn and allow that content to dictate the arrangement. Every arrangement was done extemporaneously which requires the skill and dedication of a talented artist. The cover boasts a beautiful photo of a stained glass window that resides in the Valley Presbyterian Church in Phoenix, AZ by artist Robert McCall. This stunning photo was taken by David Scott Allen. The cover lends to the mystery of a Divine encounter that is artistically and thoughtfully proclaimed in each arrangement. Many of these tracks are recognizable interpretations of hymns such as Jesus Loves Me. The Latin phrase cantum laudus means “songs of praise.” So with this album we can join in the praise.
The album begins with Royal Oak, a sweet melody that beckons you to listen further. Royal Oak is a 17th century melody presumably named for a tree at Bosocobel, Shropshire, England. As the title implies it leaves an impression of royalty being revealed with its stately and strong melody. Greg’s interpretation of this melody conveys the message of royalty and is a great way to herald the beginning journey through praise. Duke Street is one of my absolute favorites on the album. This may be known to some by the titles Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun or I Know That My Redeemer Lives. (Throughout the album, track titles are tune titles and not text titles. Different church denominations often have different texts set to the same hymn tunes.) Over twenty hymn texts have been set to this tune. I absolutely love the repeating pattern in the left hand that is woven throughout this arrangement. Also loved the gentle flow of the ending. This is a wonderful and a lesser known hymn in my opinion. Thank you for the reminder of this lovely melody.
My other favorite on the album was the hymn Nicaea -or better known to me as Holy, Holy, Holy. My experience with this hymn relates to the ending of religious gatherings proclaiming a paraphrase of scriptures from Revelation 4:1-11. The melodic interpretation of this song is both confidently and quietly pleasing with a gentle crescendo every now and then. I can almost picture the scene that is relayed in both melody and words described in the book of Revelation. This song made me reminisce of days gone by of religious service experiences.
My final selection is Wondrous Love or known as What Wonderous Love Is This? An emotion evoking American Folk hymn that is absolutely gorgeous, giving goose-bumps while listening. This hymn pulls the listener in with its mystical melody and reverent reflection that can be felt in each note and phrase. Wondrous Love is hauntingly beautiful and ended up being my favorite on the whole album! The combination of sadness and joy speaks to the listener with a lilting promise of Divine love. Glad it was included on this delightful album.
Cantum Laudus promises and delivers to the listener a sacred journey of timeless spiritual praise and reflection. A welcome addition to my collection, I found myself listening to it while reading or studying. For more information on this talented artist be sure to visit: www.gregstarrmusic.com. I highly recommend this album. It will be available for purchase on: iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.
Darla Bower, Enlightened Piano Radio