Gramophone Review of Hymns for Private Use


By Laurence Vittes
January 2023 Issue

For their fifth album the Detroit-based Akropolis Reed Quintet showcase two works that brilliantly exploit their unique instrumentation – oboe, two clarinets, alto sax and bassoon.

Nico Muhly’s Hymns for Private Use from 2012 is a five-movement song-cycle on what feels like a deeply personal selection of devotional texts drawn from early English sources, commissioned in 2021 by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Wigmore Hall.  While soprano Shara Nova’s simplicity rides the emotional currents of the quintet, Muhly catches what each of the instruments likes to do – their plaintive tones, their gurgling, they coolest comfort zones – sometimes with just a hint, sometimes with a riff. The sheer musical imagination of the cycle always illuminates and illustrates the gentle, lyrical poetry. Throughout there is an appealing rhetorical fluency that piques the curiosity.

Annika Socolofsky’s so much more takes Akropolis on a different tack in which snippets from interviews with small business owners including a Kansas farmer, a North Carolina wig-maker and the owner of an LGBTQ+ wellness business in Boulder, Colorado are imprinted on the musical score to the extent that you cannot hear one without the other. The effect is insidiously yet irresistibly disturbing because of the way it lures us into hearing about community and sacrifice. Commissioned by Akropolis and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, and while the audio alone is unexpectedly absorbing, it flares much more dimensionally and poignantly when played alongside the 17-minute fixed-media track created by Socolofsky.

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