Classical CD Reviews

ERIC WHITACRE: Her Sacred Spirit Soars; A Boy and a Girl; Water Night; This Marriage; Lux aurumque; little tree; When David Heard; Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine; i thank you God for this most amazing day; Sleep; Little Birds – Naxos

An involving and worthwhile collection from a very popular choral composer.

Published on June 16, 2010

ERIC WHITACRE: Her Sacred Spirit Soars; A Boy and a Girl; Water Night; This Marriage; Lux aurumque; little tree; When David Heard; Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine; i thank you God for this most amazing day; Sleep; Little Birds – Naxos

ERIC WHITACRE: 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 this most amazing day; Sleep; Little Birds – Leslie De’Ath, piano/ Carol Bauman, percussion/ Elora Festival Singers/ Noel Edison, conductor – Naxos 8.559677, 61:50 ****:

Aside from the “Cloudburst” album on Hyperion, most of my exposure to the music of 40-year old Nevada native Eric Whitacre has been on choral compilations, though I know that at least one instrumental work for Wind Band has also been recorded on Naxos. Whitacre loves superimposed harmonies and lingering dissonances, not unlike some of the music of John Tavener, though I think Whitacre the better composer overall. There is an ecstatic nature to his music, but even this is becoming cliché these days as more and more choral composers are indulging themselves with this sort of static, soprano-intense sound clusters not unlike what Ligeti was doing 30 years ago, but contextually more  significant and definitely more accessible.

The music on this disc is a good representation of his style, one that is not to hard to pick up on after just a few tracks. A warning: this music does not move much; those looking for clever Coplandesque figurations like his choral work In the Beginning, or even Randall Thompson-like song had better look elsewhere. This music is meditative, and deems it necessary to focus on sonority first. While the notes by Tim Sharp are rather technical, I think that his statement that melody “is not even a topic of conversation with this music” does Whitacre a disservice. One only need listen to the profoundly moving When David Heard to see that melody is in fact a great part of this music, though it often disguises itself as part of a larger tonal fabric. Sonic wash without melody is simply chord clusters, and Whitacre likes a solid if subtle melodic center in all of his work.

Aside from the above, it is hard to pick out favorites on a disc like this—I am not sure I have any. Rather each piece explores its own dynamic textual and syllabic world, pregnant, according to the composer revealing “notes already hidden below the poet’s words.” With this in mind it is a real shame that no texts are given in this release, something I missed all the more after reading Whitacre’s description of how important the poetry is to him. Nevertheless, one cannot but be moved by the quiet dreamlike trance of Sleep or the gorgeous i thank you God for this most amazing day to texts by—you guessed it—e.e. cummings (must we always use small letters when referring to anything regarding this man?).

The Elora Festival Singers are not new to Naxos, nor new to choral collectors, and the sound achieved in the Church of St John in Elora, Ontario, is well-nigh perfect. It was also very good programming to include just a few pieces that make use of piano or percussion—three to be exact—as it breaks up choral monotony and adds a delicate sense of color to distract one’s ears briefly. As an introduction to Whitacre’s art this can hardly be bettered.

– Steven Ritter




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