Review Summary: One night in the Sepulchral City...
Last night there was a major snow storm in my neck of the woods. The first night of the new decade brought upon us a foot or two of snow, creating a crystalline picture of winter. My brother was down for a visit and as if grasping at fleeting child hood moments we grabbed a football and went running into the snow plagued streets with our Dad. After a few drinks and chasing each other around for about an hour we lay in the snow smiling and soaked. I rose to my feet and looked down towards the end of my street. The lamps on the lawns of the houses were slowly choked into the abyss of falling snow. The white puffs dotting the horizon like an impressionistic painting. Looking up through the limbs of giant skeletons and into the dim grey sky I suddenly felt very small and yet very alive. This is the type of feeling that Eric Whitacres’ Cloudburst
induces upon its listener. The work is starkly epic with polyphonic voices reverberating through the ceilings of the cathedral, and yet this ode to God pines to the individual, as if each voice is reaching out to you and only you.
To describe the music is to not do it justice. I could tell you that as a composer, Eric Whitacre is known for using odd chord progressions and inversions that catch the listener off guard at first. I could also tell you the compositional make-up of this choral work, but really there is only one word that can describe this music: humbling. The only moment where something other than vocals are used comes in the second half of the title track. Using percussion, piano and hand claps, Whitacre builds momentum as the storm brews in a minor key before it breaks into light; as the upper registers change into a major key. Its grandiose and stirringly beautiful, something that perpetuates through the entire work. Each piece is performed to perfection from the choir and the result is something truly special. “Lux aurumque” is a gorgeous finale that must be heard either through headphones or very good speakers in order to pick up its full scale. For example, the very quiet last chord contains a very low “C”, that is subtlely engrossing.
The main point of my story to introduce this piece was to show that this music is something that ties itself to experience. With each passage brimming with vitality and beauty, the work ingrains itself onto your memory. As I watched the snowflakes glimmer as they passed through the street lamp, the yellow light wavering radiant and casting shadows against the undisturbed front lawn, I recalled the tranquil “Water Night”. The transcendental cascade of voices fall like the snow, fragile but strong enough to support the weight of one another. Cloudburst
lends itself to experience in life, its textured and sometimes heartbreaking. But it can also be uplifting and optimistic, just as “Sleep” rises from a low drone of baritone to soaring altos. This collection of choral works is saturated with great moments, its beauty drips from each crescendo, each held tone, each key change or harmony.
One snowflake is frail and weak, but an avalanche is a crushing force. In the same way, this polyphonic work, this collection of choral pieces, gives strength to beauty. It alters perceptions on life, it changes the way one looks at the world. Suddenly to me that snowstorm didn’t mean just bad driving conditions, it meant family and hope. In the little moments, when we realize the scope of the world, life takes on a different shape of beauty. The little moments that get passed up on Cloudburst
the first time through, also change the way we look at the work. It may be the semi-tone change on the last tone of “Her Sacred Spirit Soars”, or the unbelievable length of the held tone at the very end of the album. Cloudburst
is a lot like life, which is why I was reminded of the work as I watched the picturesque landscape last night. Sometimes life will break your heart, but there are always the moments that make it great. There is always that light to reach for, and while it may sometimes be fading into the snow covered distanced, it’s there. Cloudburst
may just make you realize this, because it is quite simply, the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard.