The title of Eric Whitacre's album Water Night comes from one of his most popular and frequently performed choral pieces, but it is presented here in a version for orchestra, recorded for the first time. In fact, seven of the nine tracks are premiere recordings, so this is an album that will be Indispensible for the composer's fans. It's also the most varied of his CDs; besides the signature a cappella choral works, there two pieces for orchestra, a brief cello concerto, and a solo song for soprano and orchestra.
This is the second release featuring the Eric Whitacre Singers, whose first, Light and Gold, won a Grammy Award and set sales records for a classical CD. The group outdoes itself in its immaculately focused intonation, tonal purity, nuanced attention to line, and disciplined but impassioned delivery. The two works that have been previously recorded, Her sacred spirit soars and When David Heard, receive revelatory performances from this group. The deeply inward When David Heard (along with the dazzlingly loopy Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine) represents Whitacre's most radical departure from the conventions of his essentially conservative choral tradition, and those two pieces are probably his masterpieces at this point in his career. The understated, painfully prolonged anguish of When David Heard grows in intensity on repeated hearings and makes an astonishing and devastating impact in this powerful performance. The River Cam, written for the 60th birthday of cellist Julian Lloyd Weber, is a pleasant foray into the landscapes of Vaughan Williams' lush pastoralism. Whitacre set the text of the classic 1947 children's picture book Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, for his wife, the extraordinary soprano Hila Plitmann. Plitmann, who won a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, and who can project a laser-like intensity, softens her voice to an appropriate tenderness for the gentle lullaby. Another highlight of the disc is Whitacre's 2011 Alleluia, whose lyrical richness and unguarded emotional directness seem destined to make it a favorite with choirs and audiences. Besides being essential to the collection of any for the composer's fans, this album would make a terrific introduction to Whitacre's work for any listener who has not discovered his music.