Whitacre: Light & Gold (CD review)

The Eric Whitacre Singers; Laudibus; The King's Singers; Pavao Quartet; Hila Plitmann, spoken Hebrew; Christopher Glynn, piano. Decca B001 4850-02.

American composer, conductor, and lecturer Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) has enjoyed a relatively sudden spurt of popularity in the past half dozen years or so, thanks in large part to several best-selling record albums of his mostly choral music, as well as to his "Virtual Choir" projects on YouTube. In 2010 he signed a long-term record contract with Decca, the present disc apparently his first release for the company.

You may have heard his Hyperion recording Cloudburst several years ago; it earned him a Grammy nomination. Light & Gold is much in the same vein, the music sung and played by various groups, including his own Eric Whitacre Singers, the choir Laudibus, the King's Singers, and the instrumental Pavao Quartet, with assorted soloists thrown in. Light & Gold roughly follows a path from morning till evening, with texts running high to Latin, which Whitacre, a student of the Juilliard School, seems to favor.

The program begins with one of Whitacre's most-popular pieces, the title work "Lux Aurumque" ("Light and Gold"), written in 2000 and sung by Whitacre's choir. The work is sweet, pure, amiable, and elegant, an appropriate representative of the remaining music on the disc. It is quite accessible, quite lilting and lovely, the singers' voices floating over the listener in angelic tones. The composer based "Lux Aurumque" on a poem by Edward Esch, translated into Latin: "Lux, Calida gravisque pura velut aurum Et canunt angeli molliter modo natum: Light, warm and heavy as pure gold and angels sing softly to the new-born babe."

The other pieces on the program follow suit. There are sixteen brief choral works altogether, the next being "Five Hebrew Love Songs" from 1996, which Whitacre describes as "troubadour songs for piano, violin and soprano," here adapted for choir and quartet. Each song is a little "postcard" capturing a specific moment that he and his girlfriend at the time (and now his wife) Hila Plitmann shared, she writing the lyrics and he doing the music.

"The Seal Lullaby" is especially fetching, written in 2004 for a movie that never happened. Like the other melodies, it is appealingly simple and direct. "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine," composed in 2001 to a poem by Whitacre's friend Charles Anthony Silvestri, appears more animated than the others, with a stronger female choir. And so it goes unto the last track on the disc, "Sleep," which Whitacre originally intended as music for the Robert Frost poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Unfortunately for the composer, Frost's estate had shut down any use of the poem, so Whitacre asked his friend, the aforementioned Silvestri, to write new words to the music, which we have here.

Now, there is a "however." While I doubt that any listener would not respond to the gentle honesty and often ravishing beauty of Whitacre's music, I couldn't help thinking as I listened that a lot of it seems alike: the soft, tranquil tone; the calm, soothing tempos; the straightforward, sometimes sentimental style; the uniformly reassuring voices. It all tends to make the individual pieces merge into one indistinguishable mass. A lovely mass, to be sure, but a lightweight, cushy, more-than-comfortable mass as well.

One can hardly fault Decca's sound, recorded at St. Silas Church, London, in August, 2010. Voices are clean and smooth; the stereo spread is extensive; and midrange transparency is ideal, without being in any way bright or abrasive. In other words, the disc's audio qualities complement the pleasurable nature of the music.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa