Thursday, November 20, 2014
Julian Wachner: Works for Orchestra and Voices
NOVUS NY; Choir of Trinity Wall Street; Majestic Brass Quintet; Trinity Youth Choir; Jessica Muirhead, soprano; Christopher Burchett, bass-baritone; Steven Burns, trumpet
Naxos 3 CD Set
In the liner notes for this three-CD set, Julian Wachner writes,
"My music lives in a sound world that seeks to balance harmony and melody, movement with stasis, simplicity with chaos, and contemporary techniques with unabashed borrowing from the past."
And for the most part, he succeeds in achieving that balance, as this new three-CD collection shows. For the most part, this release presents Wachner's works for orchestra and voices. Wachner's extensive background as a church musician has given him an intimate familiarity with the possibilities of the human voice, which makes his writing for it particularly effective.
Wachner's musical style isn't easy to pin down. Sometimes his music is aggressively atonal, sometimes tonal, but always in his own voice. The First Symphony is a good example. The way Wachner voices his chords sometimes give the orchestra a hollow and ethereal sound. And his layering of voices and cross-rhythms make the orchestra sound massive, while blurring the edges.
The other large work in the collection, "come, My Dark-Eyed One" was commissioned for a concert with the Brahms Requiem. For contrast, Wachner chose a secular subject, the loss of a loved one and the emotions it triggers. I found the work quite compelling as the protagonist works his way through to acceptance. To my ears, it sounded like a companion piece to Corigliano's "Ghosts of Versailles" -- and one that seems to be more successful in its evocation of atmosphere and drama.
There's much more to this collection. There are several short sacred songs that are absolute gems. The duet for trumpet and organ "Blue, Green, and Red," that takes this instrumental combination far beyond the world of Jeremiah Clarke.
Overall, this collection provides a good overview of Wachner's style. There are large, complex works, and short ones of more modest aims. Whether you're interested in choral music or contemporary music, this one's highly recommended.