ERIC WHITACRE: “Cloudburst” and 13 other choral works – Polyphony/Stephen Layton (with Stephen Betteridge, piano & Robert Millett, percussion on some tracks) – Hyperion

by | Mar 1, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ERIC WHITACRE: “Cloudburst” and 13 other choral works – Polyphony/Stephen Layton (with Stephen Betteridge, piano & Robert Millett, percussion on some tracks) – Hyperion CDA67543, 70:50 *****:

Thirty-five-year-old American choral composer Eric Whitacre has already gained a standing which many long-lived composers would be very pleased to have. Realizing that choral works were much more likely to get premiered and then have continuing performances, he decided to specialize in that area.  As a result his published works have sold over 350,000 copies worldwide, his music is featured on 40 recordings, and this new release titled after one of his most popular short choral works is already No. 11 on the Billboard Classical chart even though it came out less than two weeks ago. The composer is able to compose full time  – a unique situation in the classical world – and recently he has taken to transcribing his choral works for concert band – another way to get them performed more frequently. Electronics are also entering into his recent music.

Part of Whitacre’s success is undoubtedly his staunch support of tonality, but with a modern, often chilling edge to his harmonies, and a freshness of sound that seems to captivate both performers and audiences. He names among his influences Monteverdi, Debussy, Prokofiev and Bernstein, but also the Beatles, Queen, Sting, Bjork, and Peter Gabriel!  Whitacre also writes for the musical stage, and in 2004 won the Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award for the most promising voice in musical theater – for his work Paradise Lost.

Whitacre studied composition at Juilliard with John Corigliano, and he says that in his music he is constantly drawing on the structure inherent in the poetry itself.  His style can change radically from one work to the next, depending on the needs of the poetry being set. Among the sources on this CD are EE Cummings, Lorca, Rumi and Emily Dickinson. “When David Heard” uses a Biblical passage from the book of Samuel and will remind one of Arvo Paart in its minimalist style. Whitacre’s “Water Night” has become one of the most popular choral works of the last decade. Using an impressionistic poem by Mexican writer Octavio Paz, it has an ecstatic and mystical feeling that many listeners find religious.

“Cloudburst” is the only non-a cappella work on the disc, and pulls out all the stops to create a fresh new musical tone painting in the line of the Storm in Beethoven’s Sixth and the Cloudburst in Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. Piano, percussion, wind chimes and thunder sheets are part of the armentarium, but the most effective sounds are provided by the singers themselves using only clapping, finger-clicking and thigh-slapping.  Their simulated rainstorm is amazingly realistic, and had me lunging to select ProLogic II for a simulated surround effect to heighten the sonic downpour.  The only disappointment I had with this otherwise well-recorded disc was that it wasn’t multichannel SACD, which its title tune fairly cries out for.

Selections: i thank you God for most this amazing day; I hide myself; Sleep; i will wade out; Go, lovely Rose; When David heard; hope, faith, life, love; Cloudburst; With a lily in your hand; This Marriage; Water Night; A Boy and a Girl; Her sacred spirit soars; Lux aurumque.

– John Sunier

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