SOUNDS OF AMERICA
Lucid and communicative: Ronald Staheli conducts the Brigham Young University Singers, who shine in the luminous music of Eric Whitacre gradually reveal relationships lying along the interstices between musical thought and visual images. While Robert Aubry Davis’s booklet-notes provide numerous pathways into the music, it is Small’s eloquent playing that makes the most persuasive case for his creations. Laurence Vittes
Whitacre ‘Choral Works, Vol 1’ Cloudburst. Go, lovely Rose. I hide myself. Leonardo dreams of his flying machine. Lux aurumque. Sleep. Three Songs of Faith. Water Night. When David heard. With a lily in your hand Brigham Young University Singers / Ronald Staheli BYU Music Group F YCD0213EW1 (71’ • DDD)
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Whitacre ‘Choral Works, Vol 2’ Animal Crackers, Vol 1a. A Boy and a Girlb. Her sacred spirit soarsb. Five Hebrew Love Songsc. Little Birdsd. Little Treee. This Marriageb. She Weeps Over Rahoonf abde Brigham Young University Singers / Ronald Staheli; cBrigham Young University Concert Choir; cBrigham Young University Honors String Quartet / Rosalind Hall; fBrigham Young PHO T O G R A P H Y
University Women’s Concert Choir / David M Thomas with cdChristina Dayton, aSarah Astle Nowland, eJared Oaks pf BYU Music Group F YCD0314EW2 (43’ • DDD)
The bond that American composer Eric Whitacre has forged with choral forces at Brigham Young University is documented on these two recordings. The first features unaccompanied works, the second a mix of a cappella and accompanied pieces. Both discs reveal superb choral training allied to penetrating insight into Whitacre’s often mesmerising responses to poetry.
The composer sets words with utmost discernment, keeping everything clear as vocal lines blossom and soar, many in slow, sustained phrases that convey the wonder in the texts. Whitacre is a staunchly tonal composer but peppers the harmonic language with enough suspensions and mild dissonances to season textures. He uses vocal effects, such as the stormy nuances in the magical Cloudburst, with subtle authority, and he can direct a verse to ecstatic heights, only to take a breath and send sounds fading away.
There are moving and rapturous selections throughout the discs. One that stands out (on Vol 1) is When David heard, a wrenching cry of despair that depicts David facing the death of his son, Absalom, and finding it impossible to let go (the chorus keep repeating the phrase ‘my son’). Whitacre varies the shape of lines and vocal colours to piercing impact. Another work full of compelling ideas is Leonardo dreams of his flying machine, in which birdcalls, sounds of wind and lines in Italian evoke narrative flights and the period. Whitacre may be too reflective a composer to enliven whimsical verses by Ogden Nash – the three selections from Animal Crackers on Vol 2 never crack a smile – but most of the pieces on these discs are haunting and distinctive. The beautifully balanced, lucid and communicative performances by the various Brigham Young choruses – many under the direction of Ronald Staheli – celebrate a special artistic relationship. Donald Rosenberg gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2014 V