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CD Review

Eric Whitacre

Choral Works

  • Her Sacred Sprit 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 most this amazing day
  • Sleep
  • Little Birds *
* Leslie De'Ath, piano
** Carol Bauman, percussion
Elora Festival Singers/Noel Edison
Naxos American Classics 8.559677 61:50
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.com Find it at JPC

I remember frantically calling Borders Books and Music on a daily basis in anticipation of this release, which was shipped out during my final semester of college. I shared it with a number of my friends (I had connections to both University choirs), and the general consensus was that this was a special disc. Well, four years later, and despite an explosion of Whitacre-mania on YouTube and the so-called "big labels", nothing really tops this.

Don't get me wrong, I write for the major labels and their associates, and they too have gotten on the Whitacre bandwagon with considerable success. They've also managed to secure the composer himself in many cases, and sold bazillions of copies. And yet, it doesn't matter. None of the singing I've heard on those other releases quite matches the Elora Festival Singers. Noel Edison actually trumps the composer in a few cases, as the phrasing is less self-conscious and mannered here than on Decca. The programming is far less of a hodge-podge; these are Whitacre's finest works in splendid sound.

So that means no Seal Lullaby, which is (beautiful) fluff, and none of the composer's new brass arrangements or quasi-religious pieces. Fine as those are – albeit rather opportunistic – I find the earlier choral works more meaningful and accessible. Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine was the first Whitacre piece I ever heard, and it's absolutely mesmerizing here. Little Birds and little tree are the two accompanied works on the program, and they are both lovely miniatures. So is This Marriage, a very simple, yet very moving gift to his wife. Sleep was originally going to be based on Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, but the Robert Frost Estate crashed the party – for reasons that completely elude me – and banned him from using the text. Thankfully, the composer was able to get a friend to write new words. It must be nice to be you, Eric. Naturally, you can find the original on YouTube, but the revised version is arguably nicer.

The rest of the disc is similarly excellent. The sound is absolutely spectacular, the packaging is attractive, the conducting is thoroughly idiomatic, and the singing is first-rate. Considering that the other "major" Whitacre releases cost a good deal more than this Naxos issue – although they are also worth having, should you love this music – I have no hesitation in recommending this disc as your starting point for discovering this highly distinctive choral music.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman

Trumpet