Whitacre composed The Sacred Veil in with his friend and frequent collaborator Charles Anthony Silvestri, who wrote the lyrics, which revolve around the death from cancer of his late wife, Julia Lawrence Silvestri. As you might surmise from those circumstances, The Sacred Veil is an intensely personal, deeply moving work of art; moreover, this Signum CD is rewarding in many different ways.
One of the interesting qualities of The Sacred Veil is the way it balances intimacy with expression. The lyrics focus on the really private story of Julia’s passing, told from the perspective of her husband, Charles. At the same time, the lyrics are used to evoke Silvestri’s concept of a thin veil that separates the past from the future, the living from the dead, the temporal from the eternal. A simple concept intellectually, but packed with mystery and complexity as a lived experience. Whitacre’s musical setting of the lyrics uses simple melodies played by the piano and the cello to provide a ground for the sometimes straightforward, sometimes soaringly complex choral parts.
Just listen to the opening measures, with a simple melody on the piano soon joined by a tone from the cello, the choir then joining in with some exquisite harmonizing that draws the listener right into the lyrics and thus into the story. By the time the final movements arrive, the vocal harmonies have become more layered, more complex, but the piano and cello still are there to provide a solid foundation for the harmonic structure of the voices. A particularly moving choral device that Whitacre uses to great effect are sliding harmonies in the voices as the lyrics reflect Silvestri’s thoughts and emotions in the immediate aftermath of his wife’s passing in the penultimate movement, “You Rise, I Fall,” an incredibly moving portrait of grief built upon love and hope.
Insight into the recording is also provided by the liner notes, which include a brief foreword by Grant Gershon, an introduction to the background story underlying the lyrics by Silvestri, and a movement-by-movement essay on the music by Whitacre. The liner notes also include background information and photographs for not only Whitacre and Silvestri, but also for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, pianist Lisa Edwards, and cellist Jeffrey Ziegler. Seeing information provided for all involved just seems to add to the cooperative, supportive, intimate, indeed loving feeling engendered by both the music and the interview contained in this generously filled (nearly 80 minutes) compact disc. Even the austere but expressive black-and-white cover art feels perfectly appropriate for this release.
Last but not least, the recorded sound is of such excellent quality (Fred Vogler was the recording engineer) that the listener is not likely to really even think about it. The music is just there, sounding utterly natural and unstrained. This is a magnificent CD that I cannot recommend too highly. I hope you find it as moving and inspiring as I do.
Bonus Recommendations: Whitacre has several commercial CD recordings available, notably Light and Gold (2010) and Water Night (2012) on the Decca label. The former is all-choral, while the latter also feature some orchestral compositions. Another fine all-choral collection is Cloudburst and Other Choral Works (2007) on Hyperion. A release easy to overlook but wonderful to hear is The Complete A Cappella Works 1991-2001 (2007) performed by the Brigham Young University Singers on the Arsis label. They may be an amateur group, but both the performances and the engineering are first-class. Finally, a work by Whitacre that is a must-hear is Deep Field, orchestral music that Whitacre composed based on images of deep space from the Hubble space telescope. It is not available on CD as of this writing, but you can find links at Whitacre’s website, ericwhitacre.com.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: