Sleeper’s Prayer: Choral Music from North America

In barely a decade of existence, Merton College’s new choral foundation has ambitiously redefined the choral landscape of the great university city of Oxford through its twin commitment to excellence & innovation.

Now, focusing entirely on American music of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, this latest in a series of thematically conceived recordings begins as a striking ‘double portrait’ of two composers who have written or arranged works especially for the choir. David Lang’s austere choral postminimalism, informed by a background of Jewish liturgy and thought, provides a striking foil to Nico Muhly’s more richly referential approach; Muhly fell in love with the Anglican tradition as a young chorister in Rhode Island.

Two solo organ works by Muhly, and a transcription from his mentor Philip Glass’s opera Satyagraha, widen the expressive gamut still further – from whimsical allusiveness to meditative calm – and are set in context alongside the more stylistically eclectic yet no less powerfully communicative sound-worlds of Libby Larsen and Abbie Betinis.

Two final choral items draw on pre-existing traditions of the spiritual and the Baptist hymnal in moving demonstration of the New World’s ability to honour its past while gazing firmly ahead.


Fittingly exultant ... light, airy textures and ... an air of sophisticated innocence ... The pure young voices of the Choristers add an extra degree of freshness to the choral sound ... The Merton College Choir are on top form throughout this programme

Musicweb International, May 2020

★★★★ Merton's new choral foundation aimed to combine tradition with bold innovation and they pull that off here with some daring … The Merton singers are in great voice and Merton brass could dep[utise] for the angels.

Choir & Organ, May/June 2020

★★★★ ... glowing performances ... golden choral textures offset by beguiling harmonic diversions ... imaginatively coloured and strikingly performed.

The Scotsman, 23 May 2020

It's a fantastic disc ... there's real precision in the singing, which Merton has in spades ... there's an emulsification of different sounds on this disc that I found really engaging ... this recording is a real feat of excellence and precision.

Caroline Gill on Record Review, BBC Radio 3, 30 May 2020

It is a pleasure to hear the sure and self-confident young voices ... the sound captivates with its clarity, but also radiates warmth. (Es ist eine Freude, die sicheren und selbstbewussten jungen Stimmen zu hören ... besticht der Klang durch Klarheit, strahlt aber zugleich Wärme aus.)

Frankfurter Allgemeine, 29 June 2020

Benjamin Nicholas has been canny in his choices ... [the choir's] relationship with Delphian extends back nearly a decade, and you can hear the changes under Nicholas’s careful direction – in the softer-edged blend, the more bass-anchored sound... Abbie Betinis’s Cedit, hyems shouts its difference in ear-catching textures and motifs; a haunting solo flute and icy chatter warm gradually into a pulsing dance, as winter gives way to spring.

Gramophone, August 2020


Track listing

Nico Muhly - Senex puerum portabat

David Lang - again (after ecclesiastes)

Nico Muhly - Rev’d Mustard

David Lang - if I sing

Nico Muhly - A Hymn on the Nativity

Nico Muhly - Take Care (Hudson Preludes)

Libby Larsen - I will sing and raise a psalm

Nico Muhly - A Song of Ephrem the Syrian

David Lang - sleeper’s prayer

Philip Glass - Satygraha, Act III: Conclusion

Abbie Betinis - Cedit, hyems

arr. Gerre Hancock - Deep river

Stephen Paulus - The Road Home

Sleeper’s Prayer: Choral Music from North America