English composer James Whitbourn is the subject of this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. Whitbourn's music is thoroughly steeped in the English choral tradition, although it's not entirely bound by it. His melodies move smoothly from note to note, supported by triadic harmonies. Passing dissonances resolve in stepwise motion -- a common trait of choral writing since the Renaissance.
But the choices Whitbourn makes about what chords to use and the structure of his compositions are entirely original. Whitbourn writes beautiful, deeply spiritual music that has a decidedly 21st Century flavor to it.
Luminosity showcases Whitbourn's mastery of choral writing. By reinterpreting standard practices, Whitbourn creates a work that's as timeless as a William Byrd mass.
Although most of Whitbourn's catalog involve the human voice, he does write for other forces. The Adagio for String Quartet is one such work. As you can hear, although the texture and timbre are different, this piece has the same warm expressiveness of Luminosity.
The Son of God Mass for choir, organ, and saxophone is Whitbourn's most-performed composition -- and no wonder. The work successfully blends sacred music tradition with fresh harmonic progressions and melodic shapes.
James Whitbourn is one of several contemporary composers creating deeply moving works that professionals (and amateurs) genuinely enjoy to perform, and audiences can respond to. Eric Whitacre (CCC 021) and John Rutter (CCC 022) are two other composers that spring to mind when I think of James Whitbourn. Although perhaps not as well-known as those other two, James Whitbourn's works can be equally rewarding to explore.
Whitbourn: Living Voices; Son of God Mass; Requiem canticorum
James Whitbourn: Luminosity (And Other Works)
James Whitbourn: A Finer Truth