Whitacre: Cloudburst (CD Review - The Chicago Tribune, 2006)

Composer Eric Whitacre's new Hyperion release marks a most enjoyable collection of his works for (mostly) unaccompanied chorus.

Whitacre's overnight rise to becoming one of America's most successful choral composers is nothing if not remarkable. Like many of the younger generation of composers, he was raised on an omnivorous musical diet that made no distinction between "high" and "low" art. He grew up playing rock and got turned on to choral music when he joined his college choir--lured less by the music, he admits, than the cute sopranos. He went on to achieve a master's degree at the Juilliard School.

The 14 works on this CD, dating from 1991 to 2004, are settings of poets as diverse as Dickinson, Lorca, Cummings and a 13th Century Persian Sufi mystic. It's easy to hear why choruses and audiences respond to his music: It's singable, beautifully crafted, rooted in traditional tonal harmony, yet lightly spiced with piquant suspensions and other coloristic devices that reveal a deeply poetic sensibility. In all, a considerable achievement for a composer of 35.

The superb English choral ensemble Polyphony performs Whitacre's music with dedication and sensitivity, bringing out the floating, shimmering qualities conjured by the words and music. For many listeners, the Hyperion disc will make a fine introduction to a young composer who--to judge from these selections--was born to write choral music.

John von Rhein 

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