CD Review: Westminster Choir sparkles in the luminous sounds of composer Daniel Elder

westminsterOver the years, Westminster Choir has recorded the music of many of history’s great composers, including Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Benjamin Britten, Daniel Elder…Daniel who?

elderChances are you’ve never heard of Daniel Elder, a 27-year-old freelance composer from Athens, Ga., who now lives in Nashville. But that’s likely to change. Elder’s music is the focus of “The Heart’s Reflection,” Westminster Choir’s latest recording. The 11 selections on this album are positively brimming with appealing melodies, thrilling harmonies and evocative effects. Conductor Joe Miller and his vocalists do justice to every note, delivering interpretations that are remarkable for their sensitivity and refinement.

Elder’s ear for color and texture is revealed in the first piece, “O Magnum Mysterium,” which derives its text from the Matin Responsory for Christmas Day. The piece is remarkable for its undulating vocal lines that shimmer like light on water. Westminster Choir performs this music with luminosity and precision. They are equally successful in “Elegy,” singing this lament with immediacy and heartfelt emotion.

elderalbumThree of Elder’s most strikingly original pieces set to music the verse of 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. These selections – “In Your Light,” “A Breathing Peace” and “Drumsound Rises” – are vibrant arrangements for mixed chorus and percussion. Often in these works, Elder treats the voice like a percussion instrument, with the vocalists sounding an insistent rhythmic patter. Westminster Choir and percussionists Mark Foster and Jeffrey Grubbs perform this music with color and vitality.

Elder also sets to music some of his own verse. These three choral nocturnes – “Ballade to the Moon,” “Star Sonnet” and “Lullaby” – are as lyrically appealing as pop songs, and they are performed with sweet sensitivity by the choir and pianist John Hudson. The singers are just as effective in the title track, “The Heart’s Reflection,” a paraphrase of Proverbs 27:19.

Elder’s setting of “Seven Last Words from the Cross” is the album’s longest and most ambitious piece, and Westminster Choir gives it an urgent and, at times, frantic reading. A surprisingly original setting of the familiar nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” rounds out the program.

Nashville has long been an eclectic music city, with country, classical, alt-rock and jazz musicians all making their homes here. It was only a matter of time before it became home to a first-rate choral composer.

Elder discusses his music here:

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.