The Sacred Veil
Lisa Edwards (piano), Jeffrey Zeigler (cello); Los Angeles Master Chorale/Eric Whitacre
Signum Classics SIGCD630 56:42 mins
Eric Whitacre’s The Sacred Veil is an accessible, melodic work for choir, piano and cello that tells the story of a woman’s death from cancer – a subject matter and musical style selected to incite feeling. The first movement, ‘The Veil Opens’, is quasi-religious (‘the sacred veil between the worlds’ alludes to an afterlife), with gently moving harmonies and plenty of unison lines, neatly performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. So far, so pedestrian.
But the work quietly develops into something more interesting: the sixth movement ‘I’m Afraid’ repeats the fragmented phrase ‘I’m afraid we’ve found something’, interspersing the unfinished sentence with medical terms ‘fifteen centimetre retroperitoneal cystic mass with complex internal septation…Metastasis’. The text was co-written by Whitacre and Charles Anthony Silvestri, whose wife Julie died of ovarian cancer at 36 in 2005. There is a pseudo-liturgical feel which recalls something of Karl Jenkins’s work, intensified by the subsequent call for prayers taken from Julie’s blog and a closing benediction.