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CD Review

Eric Whitacre

Choral Works, Volume 1

A Cappella Works 1991-2001
  • Water Night
  • Three Songs of Faith
  • Cloudburst
  • Sleep
  • Three Flower Songs
  • When David Heard
  • Lux Aurumque
  • Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine
BYU Singers/Ronald Staheli
BYU Records YCD0213EW1
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Can this very fine program of Eric Whitacre choral music really be 11 years old now? It seems only yesterday that it was released on Arsis with relatively little fanfare. In the decade that has followed, Whitacre has established himself as arguably the most popular choral composer of all time, aided by a massive and media-savvy presence that extends from YouTube to Facebook. As a result, this early effort tends to get lost in the Whitacre shuffle. Now on Brigham Young University's own record label and far less drably packaged, this newly re-mastered disc ought to win new friends.

Billed as Volume 1 of a series – Volume 2 (BYU Records YCD314EW2) also came out this May – the selections and order are identical to the earlier Arsis program. Whitacre is lucky in many ways, but perhaps most of all in that he's never had a bad album devoted to his works on the market. Ever. The Elora Singers' Naxos disc from 2010 was marvelous, as was Polyphony's amazing effort on Hyperion prior to that. The composer himself conducted an unusual but artistically stimulating Decca disc. In short, the man's music has been heard in the best light for years, and demands a high quality going forward. Happily, as presented here, this is equally fine. In a few places, tempos are daringly slow, but the composer was at both rehearsals and recording sessions, and must have endorsed the results.

These are all a cappella works, and they reveal much about the composer over the decade of composition. From the very beginning, there is an amazing ear for harmonics as well as textpainting; Whitacre's comfort with poetry from all eras and cultures has always been a distinguishing feature for me. The BYU forces respond with great feeling to the varied moods and styles of the music. And while professional choirs have taken the reins on many of Whitacre's recent albums, the collegiate singers here have nothing to fear from the competition. I seem to recall the original recordings being a touch murky, but it's been seven years or so since I last heard these particular sessions. No matter, that has been corrected if it were the case, and everything sounds terrific. If you missed this the first time around, don't miss again!

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman