The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay has done itself proud with a new CD, Discover!, singing music by Libby Larsen and Alice Parker. The two were composers in residence with the chorus the past two seasons, and each wrote new works to be performed here. Larsen's premiere was Whitman's America, a setting of verse from the poet's Song of the Open Road, and Parker arranged a suite of three spirituals, The Rock and the River.
Todd Donovan, a booming bass-baritone, shines as the soloist in I Got a Hidin' Place, one of the songs in Parker's suite, as well as in the good-humored Don't Get Down ("Have you forgiven the sinner who kept you from being a winner?'') from her stylish arrangement of Duke Ellington's Songs from the Sacred Concerts. Also featured are mezzo-soprano Eleni Matos in a smoky Come Sunday and the excellent USF Jazz Combo.
Larsen's ode to Whitman reflects her penchant for music on American literary themes, and the Master Chorale does a fine job with the ornate language. The other Larsen work on the recording is Seven Ghosts, a cantata on the lives of some of the composer's heroes, such as Phillis Wheatley, George Washington and Louis Armstrong. Sopranos Ruthie Nelson and Jennifer Rodney are especially good in the section on Harriet Beecher Stowe and Jenny Lind.
Discover!, recorded at Tampa's Springs Theatre, is the very model of what a regional arts organization ought to be doing: commissioning new work and highlighting homegrown talent. Aside from its delightful entertainment value, the CD is a valuable document of two important contemporary American composers. $15, at Master Chorale concerts or through its Web site, masterchorale.com.