Julian Wachner is an all-around choral musician; he composes, conducts, and makes arrangements. As a composer he is not limited exclusively to choral music, though it figures in a big way in his worklist. Naxos' Julian Wachner: Complete Choral Music 1 must be the result of an ambitious plan, as Wachner is still producing choral music. Interestingly enough Wachner himself is not leading the choir; that duty has been passed to Noel Edison who fronts the Elora Festival Singers on this Naxos release. The program includes two secular cycles, Sometimes I Feel Alive (1998) and Rilke Songs (2002), but the rest of it is dominated by sacred settings, including one of the mass in his Missa Brevis (1987). A fair amount of the sacred music was composed when Wachner was serving as music director for Marsh Chapel at Boston University.
The recording was made at the Elora Festival Singers' home base at St. John's Church in Elora, Ontario; it is very quiet, so you will need to crank this one up. The early Missa Brevis is a very interesting work, reflecting as it does the new wave music of the 1980s popular when it was written, though not in an obvious way. The organ accompaniment is not quite up to task, lurking behind the chorus in certain spots. Overall the choral singing is diffuse and seems less than well rehearsed; no matter what language they are singing in -- German, Latin, or English -- it is hard to understand what the words are. As a result, it's a little difficult to evaluate the quality of the music, although it seems proficient and more than a little stylish; lots of quartal and quintal harmony and a little reminiscent of Morton Lauridsen, though Wachner utilizes some dynamic rhythms that betray the influence of pop. Wachner provides his own liner notes, which are more interesting to read than the disc is to listen to. Wachner recorded a selection of his choral music in 2000 for the Arsis label, which actually might serve as a better introduction to his work than this; the Naxos recording is lacking in the low end and when the organ is present it slightly tends to bury the vocal ensemble.