WHITACRE Choral Music
Her Sacred Spirit Soars; A Boy and a Girl; Water Night; This Marriage; Lux aurumque (Light of Gold); little tree; When David Heard; Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine;
i thank you God for most this amazing day; Sleep; Little Birds.
In the last decade Eric Whitacre has quietly become one of the most performed American composers at home and increasingly so abroad, an impressive achievement for one who has just turned 40 this year.
Whitacre, who studied with John Corigliano, has written music for wind band, orchestra and even an eclectic pop musical, Paradise Lost, “combining trance, ambient and techno electronica with choral, cinematic, and operatic traditions.” But it is his a cappella choral music for which he is primarily known, and this present disc makes a fair sampler of his works in the genre.
Whitacre is a melodic vocal composer in the style of Morten Lauridsen and John Tavener. As pointed out in Tim Sharp’s fine booklet notes, it is his specific employment of secundal harmonies using the standard interval as a source of resolving consonance rather than passing dissonance that gives Whitacre’s music its unique imprint.
Under Noel Edison’s direction, the Toronto-based Elora Festival Singers display a fluent, smoothly blended sound, well suited to Whitacre’s expansive phrases and shimmering harmonies. In the gorgeous opening selection Her Sacred Spirit Soars, the rising steps paint Charles Anthony Silvestri’s words with great skill, the work sung with pure ensemble tone and expressive feeling. Other highlights include the spare separated lines of A Boy and a Girl and the glowing vocalise of its coda; the lovely miniature This Marriage, to a Rumi text; and little tree, where e.e. cummings’ text is enhanced by the minimalist piano writing and radiant, surely placed climax. At nearly 13 minutes, When David Heard – a passage from the Second Book of Samuel that has drawn composers to it on a regular basis over the centuries – is by far the largest work on the disc. It shows Whitacre’s skill at shaping and pacing a broader canvas, with its contrasted segmented phrases, overlapping harmonies and hypnotic repetition.
The recording has an evocative ecclesiastical glow, but the major problem with these performances is the consistently unclear diction of Edison’s chamber choir which is often wholly indecipherable, even when they are singing English texts. Whether that is due to the distanced perspective, a lack of crisp enunciation, or both, I can’t say for sure. But, it’s an unfortunate drawback, particularly as the composer specifies in a brief introductory booklet note how essential text- and word-painting are to his music. The failure to provide texts adds to the lack of comprehension.
Whitacre is set to make his recording debut for Decca as a conductor in a program of his own music with Light and Gold, due out in October. In the meantime, with reservations noted, admirers, choral directors, and those looking to explore this greatly gifted composer may wish to take the plunge with this present collection at the wallet-friendly Naxos price.