James Whitbourn: Luminosity

Commotio / Matthew Berry

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James Whitbourn: Luminosity Review

by Stephen Eddins

The music of James Whitbourn falls comfortably within the tradition of British choral music as it developed in the early and mid-20th century, and most of the pieces recorded have a tone of quiet reverence. Whitbourn prefers homophony to counterpoint, so his texts are easily understood. His works feature traditional organ accompaniments, to which, in several works, he adds an obbligato instrument or percussion. While the works are well-crafted, most have the sound of music that has been heard before, particularly in the conventionality of the harmony and predictability of the cadences. Each is attractive on its own, but taken together, they leave the impression that Whitbourn doesn't have a particularly wide range. One of the most attractive pieces is the quirky Alleluia jubilate, for women's voices, which has a nice rhythmic springiness tied to an archaic modal quality. The most ambitious work, the seven-movement Luminosity, written to accompany a dance, offers a fresh sound with its use of percussion, viola, and the conventions of classical Indian music, but the choral writing is often embarrassingly derivative, sometimes of Morten Lauridsen, sometimes of mystical minimalists like Arvo Pärt. One of its movements, though, "Ask the Beauty," with a text by Augustine of Hippo, stands out for its ecstatic radiance and showcases the composer at his best. British choral ensemble Commotio, led by Matthew Berry, turns in expert and committed performances, singing with warmth and a good blend. The album should appeal to fans of conservative British choral music.

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