CD REVIEW: TOENSING – Evening Prayers, Whitman Tropes, Night Songs
William Drury, conductor; Erica Washburn, mezzo-soprano; Bethany Worrell, soprano
New England Conservatory Symphonic Winds – ALBANY 1741

“Toensing had a remarkable ear for sound, and his sense of harmony and melody perfectly suits the elevated nature of these pieces…Toensing’s Night Songs are a tour de force that evokes a wide range of emotions from insomniac anxiety to religious radiance…Toensing’s voice leaps off the page from the first note, and his musical gift is unmistakable.”
~Fanfare Magazine  |  full review

Choral Arts Ensemble & Cappella Romana: many ways of being many

Posted by Oregon ArtsWatch

Portland’s choral scene is so abundant it has its own calendar. With such an bounty of choirs, it’s no surprise that they represent many different ways of singing together. Two concerts in October—Choral Arts Ensemble’s season opener on October 13 at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, Cappella Romana’s Heaven and Earth on October 14 at St. Stephen Catholic Church—showcased two quite distinct approaches to creating choral music.

“Toensing’s… contributions to Heaven and Earth were both wonderful. ‘May the Glory of the Lord endure to the ages’ was a study in tight, pretty harmonies, shiny chords expanding outward to an expansive ‘Bless the Lord, my soul!’ Later, closing the concert, his delicious ‘Alleluia,’ gooey descending lines occasionally interrupted by trumpet peals of divine thunder, all winding down to a final, exhilarating stillness.”

THE PSALM 103 PROJECT: A Tribute to Richard Toensing

The Psalm 103 Project will be a musical memorial to Richard that will honor his legacy in the manner that he deserves  |  full article


“The most ambitious work is Richard Toensing’s Children of Light, a spiritual journey written for The Websters, set in five movements of differing mood and pace, drawing on the theology, language and music of the Orthodox Church, whose final version is radiant, impressionist haze.”
~Gramophone  |  full review

Note: Scores for “Children of Light,” for flute, clarinet, and piano, are available for purchase. Contact


“Boulder composer Richard Toensing, who joined the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1997, has written a spellbinding Christmas choral concerto in traditional Orthodox style for soloists and two four-part choirs. It, along with a series of his Orthodox carols, is stunningly realized by Cappella Romana, a choral ensemble based in the Pacific Northwest.”
~Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post | full review

“Composer Richard Toensing, based at the University of Colorado, has created a stunning ‘Choral Concerto’ based on Greek texts and Byzantine Christmas hymns from ancient times. This is gorgeous music, wonderfully sung. The CD includes a dozen ‘New Orthodox Christmas Carols’ by Toensing that are, if anything, more lovely than the Kontakion.”
~Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News

“…Glorious, lush, beautiful, dramatic, and demanding music…what I also hear is a master composer, fully on top of his game, synthesizing many of the best influences of 20th century choral writing…”
~Richard Barrett, Orthodox music blogger  |  full review

“…This version of the Kontakion (essentially a lengthy chanted sermon) is as unique as it is enjoyable. Here, Toensing employs the paraliturgical concerto setting for the illumination of these stanzas and the melodic formulas of the Russian ‘Greek’ chant version of mode three. These hymns are not liturgical music as such, at least not as understood today. But the charm and beauty of the music and the theological potency of St. Romanos’ texts keep the listener’s attention in a joyful crescendo of praise to the Lord’s Incarnation from the Virgin and the Holy Spirit.

The 2nd part of the disc is devoted to a collection of New Orthodox Carols for the Nativity of Christ and here the term carols is operative since these are truly carols in a Dickensian sense…They could be easily learned and sung in a non-liturgical parish setting and may, in time, grow to become the favorite of American Orthodox audiences since they are adapted from well-known liturgical settings…This is a very accessible recording and one that sweeps the listener up in the harmonious cadence of the stanzas and the hymns…it is a real treat. As always, the musicianship of Cappella Romana is above reproach and the arrangements really give the superb voices of the group ample room to shine….”
~Fr. Apostolos Hill,  |  full review


“Exceptionally colorful and refreshingly uncontrived…”
~Washington Post


“Richard Toensing is a super-high-voltage contemporary composer whose musical language is pile-driver strong and laser sharp…what interesting sounds! – the impact is magical. Good composer — of organized sound — this man Toensing.”

“A gift for the violently dramatic, a sense of climax, a rich harmonic palette, an acute ear for unusual sonorities…”
~High Fidelity


~Rocky Mountain News


“There were some outright winners among the selections — including the world premiere of Richard Toensing’s ‘Fantasia (of Angels and Shepherds)'”
~Washington Post


“Magnificent work…a warm and committed performance…The music beams with many calculated and variegated timbres. Light and strange dissonance abound…the very best tracks ripple with great sensuality.”
~Alternate Music Press

“Magnificent…the composition transports listeners into a sacred space where contemplation of Christ’s Passion takes on an entirely new dimension.”
~Denver Catholic Register

“The liner notes to this setting of the Tenebrae services state that ‘in the program notes to the first performance of Book II, the composer refers to the entire work as ‘a vast, three-movement choral symphony’.’ This three-disc set is indeed a vast work, one which requires intensive and repeated listening, for which one is richly rewarded. The three Nocturns for each of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are scored for six-part chorus, six soloists, double bass, piano, and metal percussion. The subtle interaction of singers and instruments can only be appreciated with careful listening; this is music for meditation and multiple experiences. Toensing worthily follows the tradition of Victoria, Ingegneri, and Gesualdo, with a voice that is clearly contemporary, yet to my ears timeless, in part because of its modal character. The vocal parts are demanding in range and in their consistently exposed character; yet David Shuler’s singers sustain them flawlessly. The performance is sensitive and thoroughly convincing.”
~Victor Hill, Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians

“Toensing, Chair of the Composition Department at the University of Colorado, has composed three liturgical books that make for some mighty affecting listening. His idiom could remind you a little of Poulenc’s Sept Repons with some Orff-like bells, sustained piano notes, and insistently syllabic word-pointing tossed in for good measure. But mostly, Toensing sounds like Toensing – dark, diatonic, austere, and starkly atmospheric. Maestro Shuler and his singers from New York City’s St. Luke in the Fields do immense service to the composer…Eerie changes of vocal color abound, and the spirits of medieval and Renaissance antiquity are never far off…If you’re looking for a compelling choral experience to help bring the Passion alive for you this year, you’ve found it here.”
~Greenfield, The American Record Guide

“…Perhaps the most attention-grabbing vocal disc of the month is Richard Toensing’s massive RESPONSORIA, which fills three North/South CDs.”
~Frank J. Oteri, New Music Box


“A discourse of profound content and expressive coherence…the first hearing of Toensing’s Angels was one of the most outstanding points of the entire concert.”
~Prensa, Buenos Aires, Argentina

“The intellectual meat of the disk is left to the first and last pieces. Angels by Richard Toensing is a virtuoso ensemble piece where the North/South Consonance Ensemble comes into its own. This is serious concert music for a large ensemble – nine players (including two percussion) – plus conductor. Angels is brim-full of textural ideas performed with precision and compelling musicianship. The bell-like effects, trills, repeated-note configurations and, in the last section, wonderfully sensitive treatment of Lutheran Choral tune – all these echo and re-echo in the listener’s imagination long after the quiet ending fades away.”
~IAWM Journal


“The music itself is compelling…there are many passages which are beautifully reserved, even meditative.”