Two branches of choral royalty entwine with majestic harmony on the latest Decca release from Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre and the acclaimed vocal ensemble VOCES8. The album includes a world premiere, All Seems Beautiful To Me, and a new recording of Whitacre’s deeply moving 2019 cantata The Sacred Veil.
The five-minute work All Seems Beautiful To Me, released on Friday 10th February, is based on a poem by Walt Whitman (from Song of the Open Road) celebrating the human spirit’s capacity for generosity and growth. It was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band and here receives its world premiere recording. Also included is a new recording of one of Whitacre’s most frequently performed and much loved pieces, The Seal Lullaby. Written to accompany an animated film (ultimately never made) based on Kipling’s tale The White Seal, the ravishing work sets the words of a mother seal tenderly singing her pup to sleep (Whitacre amusingly confesses that he sang it to his own baby son ‘with a less than 50% success rate’).
The album also includes Sing Gently and Go, Lovely Rose. The former was composed during lockdown specially for Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, made up of over 17,500 singers from 124 different countries. The latter was Whitacre’s first ever composition, written 30 years ago, and thus the new album is also, in part, a joyful celebration of his three decades as a composer.
The longest work is the twelve-movement, hour-long 2019 cantata The Sacred Veil for choir, cello (Emma Denton), and piano (Christopher Glynn). The text, by Whitacre’s close friend and long-time collaborator Charles Anthony Silvestri, commemorates the death of the poet’s young wife Julie from ovarian cancer. It journeys from the growth of their love, through the birth of their children, to their struggle with the illness. One particularly striking section ‘You Rise, I Fall’ involves extraordinary descending and ascending tone-clusters mirroring the emotional states of the dying woman and her husband. ‘It’s impossible not to be moved,’ said Limelight; ‘Heartbreaking… a tender, subtle score with ethereal harmonies,’ said the LA Times.
VOCES8 is ‘the Rolls-Royce of British a cappella ensembles’ according to The Arts Desk, and has long had an ardent admirer in Whitacre. ‘Their sound is glassy and pure, like spun honey,’ he says. ‘The chance to have my music brought to life by musicians of this calibre is all I could ever hope for, and, in fact, this is how I always dreamed it would sound.’ Librettist Silvestri adds that ‘the musicians perfectly capture my wife’s vulnerability, our tender moments, and the poignancy of Eric’s music in this stunning, definitive recording.’
The recording is accompanied by a full-length performance video of The Sacred Veil, with added insight from the composer.
A major life-affirming work – yet one which is not afraid to stare death in the face – is given a glorious new performance from the composer’s ‘dream vocal group.’ Truly, this is choral royalty at its most majestic.
The album will be out on 14th April.