Whitacre: Cloudburst (CD Review - Encore USA, 2006)

A lifetime of listening to choral music had not prepared me for such lush harmonies—a cappella voices perfectly tuned and blended. This was my first encounter with Polyphony, possibly the best small (25 or so) professional chorus in the world. Polyphony is from Britain, where choral singing is a national fetish. Since their formation in 1986 by conductor Stephen Layton, they have amassed an impressive catalogue on the Hyperion label, which also includes the highly praised, Grammy-nominated recording of Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. But for pure Polyphony, the group’s CD Cloudburst, comprised entirely of works by wunderkind composer Eric Whitacre, is a stunning recording, their best showcase yet. The usual four-part harmonies are just a starting point for Whitacre’s complex harmonic writing. His compositional style employs frequent dissonance for its sheer beauty, as seconds, elevenths and thirteenths serve as passing tones, or crowd together in tight, but perfectly articulated clusters of notes, always in service to a beautiful vocal sound. Whitacre’s texts include settings of e.e. cummings, Octavio Paz and others. But the star of this gorgeous recording is Polyphony. Headphones are recommended.


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