It just felt right to translate the text. The result is his shimmering choral anthem Lux aurumque, a perennial favorite among his compositions despite its seasonal specificity. The musical essence of Lux aurumque for Whitacre is a "blossoming" of the textures of light, and a "surrender that we must experience in reaction to the purity of this light. The pairs of chords establish a rocking expectancy for the entire piece, in which pairs of chords lean into each successive part of the pair; it is not traditional Western cadences, but rather a musical action of adding shining dissonances, especially major seconds or tones in different musical registers such as the brilliant soprano pitched far above the third opening set of chords. Subtle shifts in text call forth subtle shifts in texture, including a gentle reach into the musical depths around the word "heavy" and a new simplified duo texture introducing the word "pure"; voices are gradually added again, to add luster to the gold. The soft voices of the singing angels are conjured in newly simplified chords, though the angelic choir is intimately related to the Light by musical similarities in the expectant chord pairs.
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Its repertoire was broad and it demonstrated a commitment to contemporary music as much as to the classic repertoire, commissioning and performing over new works. It made, in its way, a very American sound, by which I mean that it was full, and unified from top to bottom.
This also meant that such difficult intervals to tune as seconds and augmented fourths were completely clear. It also had the commendable habit of everyone beginning and ending exactly together. And did I say they sang dead in tune? This ensemble was a professional musical instrument and Dale Warland was an exceptional trainer of that instrument. There is no particular theme or development here, save a bow in the direction of works related to light, as the title suggests.
The program gives us a tour of what we now can consider high points of the modern choral repertoire. The pieces by Howells, Rutter, Whitacre, Biebl, Rachmaninoff, and Chesnokov are part of the standard concert repertoire for most American choirs.
Despite a general conservatism, this is a 20th-century program and constituted of challenging music. It is also ravishing music in the hands of an ensemble as subtle as this one, making it difficult to choose one piece over another. It is dramatic, nuanced, and passionate. This begins somewhat in the style of Howells but comes quickly to an acerbity that Howells avoided. It also ends with an Ivesian distant trumpet and the softest recorded ppp I have ever heard a choir make.
I am not an unabashed fan of the music of John Rutter, but his double-choir motet, Hymn to the Creator of Light , is one of his very best pieces, especially when done as expressively as it is here. The rest of the music is similarly well done.
It will not rock any boats, but the music-making is a pleasure to hear. The dynamic range of this ensemble was enormous and it is well captured by Gothic. If there is a criticism to be made of this program, it is that it really only shows one side of the choir, midth-century religious music, but this is where American choirs often do their best work. On the evidence here, the Dale Warland Singers stopped at the peak of their form.
What a way to go!
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