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CD Review

Eric Whitacre

Choral Works, Volume 2

  • Little Birds 1,a
  • A Boy and a Girl a
  • This Marriage a
  • Her Sacred Spirit Soars a,b
  • Five Hebrew Love Songs 5,b
  • She Weeps Over Rahoon 2,4,c
  • Little Tree 3,a
  • Animal Crackers, Volume 1 1,a
1 Sarah Astle Nowland, piano
2 Christina Dayton, piano
3 Jared Oaks, piano
4 Kira Leavitt, English horn
5 BYU Honors String Quartet
a BYU Singers/Ronald Staheli
b BYU Concert Choir/Rosalind Hall
c BYU Women's Chorus/David M. Thomas
BYU Records YCD0314EW2
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To Dr. M. Mitchell, my mentor and friend.

This is the second disc of Whitacre choral works originally issued by Arsis, and was released in 2008. Disc one always seemed easier to locate, but with both now released on the Brigham Young University's own label in May of this year (2014), they can hopefully both be loved by many more listeners. As noted previously, 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. If you've not heard his music, you are missing something special.

The musical 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. No matter which record label or with which choir, he's always sold well, and been performed with absolute conviction. The composer himself conducted a weirdly compelling Decca disc. But these early efforts from Brigham Young University deserve credit for putting this music out to the public on disc, and for successfully championing his art. Now packaged in a much nicer fashion than the original, one hopes that their contributions won't be overlooked.

While the first volume (BYU Records YCD0213EW1) was exclusively a cappella, this program features pianists, woodwind soloists, and even a string quartet, all while effectively showing the composer's maturing style. As I previously stated, 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. My college choir director – to whom this review is dedicated in thanks – introduced myself and many others to this utterly accessible and unforgettable body of work. It is by turns beautiful, sensuous, and even funny in places. Most of all, it is sincere and never tries to be anything it isn't. I'm not so fond of some of Whitacre's later pieces and arrangements, if only because I feel they lack the sheer humanity of his earlier work. I feel that his later output, fine as it still is, doesn't really reach out to us in the same way that something like This Marriage does. That work, by the way, was a wedding present to his wife. No pressure, boys.

The choirs and instrumentalists of the University sing and play in a way that fully justifies the best-seller status that this album once held. All three choirs are exceptionally fine (although it is unclear who is directing who in Her Sacred Spirit Soars, hence the double credit). A must for choral fans, even if you already have latter releases devoted to the composer.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman