Friday, January 4, 2008

Sonic Sunshine

Cloudburst: Choral Music of Eric Whitacre
Polyphony / Stephen Layton
Hyperion Records, CDA67543


The English conductor Stephen Layton heads two different choral groups, Polyphony and the Holst Singers, which are among my favorite musical entities. A conspicuous number of these two groups' recordings have ended up on my pile of favorites. I'm wildly fond of Polyphony's collection of Grainger and the Holst Singers' Vaughan Williams compilation, both from a few years ago, and they have a couple really excellent collections of Russian composers as well. Through them I learned of Morten Lauridsen and James MacMillan.

And now they've introduced me to Eric Whitacre. Whitacre (b. 1970) has a Master's degree from Julliard, and specializes in choral writing. This disc gives us a representative sample of his output, with Polyphony's typical flawless execution. Whitacre's harmonies are dense and luxurious, and Layton clearly has a feel for how Whitacre writes. There's something so simple and confident and direct in the settings that I find myself kind of permanantly choked up while I listen.

I recommend, with the added glow of their being a new discovery for me.

A review of groups on YouTube performing Whitacre's "Sleep" (my favorite so far on this album) shows that what Polyphony have pulled off is very impressive indeed. I did not find any Polyphony on YouTube, but this recording gives a good sample of Whitacre's writing (and, for all that, this Indiana choir--either high school or college--does a great job; but Hyperion and Polyphony certainly do them one better). Polyphony can be sampled on iTunes.


Anonymous said...

Polyphony's singing is quite stunning, and that's saying a lot, given the plethora of good singing groups in and around London.
Layton was until recently Mus. Director at the Temple Church, near the Law Courts. He took up the position of Mus. Dir. at Trinity, Cambridge last September, I believe.
Another fabulous singing group in London is Tenebrae, which has recorded a wonderful album on Signum containing works by Jonathan Dove ("Seek him that seeketh the Seven Stars of Orion"), Filsell, Tavener, et al. That album is worth every penny you pay for it.
David Dunkle

wunelle said...

I agree that London seems quite the place to try and stand out as a musician (which makes Stile Antico's accomplishments the more impressive, as a young group breaking out in that environment).

Thanks for the Tenebrae recommend; I've just run off to iTunes to pick up their recording of Rachmaninov's Vespers. I'll try to make my acquaintance with something familiar!

shrimplate said...

Thank you for the suggestions, gentlemen. Modern choral music is woefully under-represented in my little collection, so I will be looking out for these.

shrimplate said...

I'm going away for the weekend to a cabin without internet, phone, nor TV. So I'll be listening to NPR like crazy.

Wunelle, are you familiar with drummer Matt Wilson? I rate him right up there with Eddie Blackwell and your revered Gadd.

I'll be taking along some Tom Varney CD's, some of which feature Wilson.

wunelle said...

Actually, I've never heard of either of these guys, though I must have known of Matt Wilson from his Trip Shakespeare days. I was in Minneapolis at the time they were functioning--and playing drums myself in a band of which no one ever heard!

I'll have to try and find samples.

I've been on vacation, and haven't had much new music to review lately. But there are a few new CDs on order, so I'll post something new eventually!

Have a fab time out in the wilderness. So long as you can get NPR you'll have a link to civilization (I LOVE NPR).