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Album reviews: Eric Whitacre, 1612

By William Dart

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Eric Whitacre: Water Night (Decca)
1612: Italian Vespers (Decca)
Verdict: Four hundred years apart, composers write choral music that connects.

The dashing Eric Whitacre, disarmingly casual and bestubbled, makes a fetching cover on his latest Decca album. Water Night features the composer's own singers in a mainly choral collection, centred around a searing account of his popular When David Heard.

The American has earned a loyal following through his ability to create palatable choral adventures for those who want to venture beyond John Rutter and Karl Jenkins.

The opening Alleluia is smoothly sung Palestrina for our times, although Oculi Omnium reveals Whitacre is not frightened of a note cluster or two; the great climax in When David Heard is a series of pulsating dissonances worthy of Penderecki.

The instrumental offerings are less distinguished. Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and the London Symphony Orchestra come together for The River Cam, with what sounds like warmed-over Delius.

The pleasant surprise is a solo setting for his wife, soprano Hila Plitmann. The words are taken from Margaret Wise Brown's classic 1947 bedtime book, Goodnight Moon, and Plitmann is everyone's favourite nurse/mother/nanny as she bids crisp farewells to the youngster's room and everything in it.

Back in 1968, CBS' The Glory of Gabrieli was touted as "a stereo spectacular recorded in the fabled acoustics of San Marco, Venice". And there was a frisson to be had imagining the Texas Boys Choir occupying stalls once supervised by Giovanni Gabrieli.

Spurred by the 400th anniversary of Gabrieli's death, I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingworth recreate their Venice in St Johns, Croydon, with an elegantly turned vespers service, drawing on composers from Monteverdi to Viadana and Soriano.

Exceptional musicianship and a wonderfully alert recording reveal treasures that would have wilted in grander surroundings, such as a feverish scurry of a cornett solo by Bartolomeo Barbarino.

Gabrieli's great In ecclesiis is saved for last and is a fleet-footed affair, with carefully variegated scoring and scholarly additions. Yet, for all this, one still misses the rough-hewn, primal oomph that CBS gave us 44 years ago.

- NZ Herald

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