Whitacre: Cloudburst; When David heard

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Cloudburst
WORKS: Cloudburst; When David heard
PERFORMER: Polyphony/Stephen Layton; Stephen Berreridge (piano), Robert Millett (percussion); Pupils of The Lady Eleanor Holles School, Hampton, Middlesex
Eric Whitacre is a 36 year-old from Nevada who majors in composing for voices. ‘Fundamentally conservative’ is how Meurig Bowen’s excellent booklet essay describes his music, but that’s not intended as a criticism. A piece like Sleep, for instance, has a deceptively simple-sounding melodic surface, while the underlying harmonic commentary shifts and twitches as remnants of the day flicker in the uneasy world of semi-consciousness. When David heard depicts rawer, more unmistakable emotions, Whitacre going for the jugular with a sequence of searing harmonisations on the repeated phrase ‘My son’ as the dead Absalom is mourned by his father. Cloudburst is the central piece here, a dazzling kaleidoscope of busy clamour, arcing lyricism, solo and spoken passages, sighing, handbells, wind chimes, inter alia. Whitacre was only 22 when he wrote it. Mightly effective, it’s superbly performed (as is everything else on the CD) by Polyphony and Stephen Layton. Terry Blain