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On CD: Julian Wachner

Julian Wachner: Complete Choral Music, Volume 1. Elora Festival Singers conducted by Noel Edison; Michael Bloss, organ. Naxos.

by Mark J. Estren

Julian Wachner, the music director of the Washington Chorus, releases a CD of his own choral works.

In his own choral music, Washington Chorus Music Director Julian Wachner draws on so many influences that his successes are a compendium of surprises, and even his less-successful works have engaging moments. Yet on the basis of this first volume of a planned Naxos series of all Wachner’s choral music, the simplest-sounding pieces can touch a listener most strongly.
(read more after the jump)

Half of this very well sung CD is devoted to secular works, half to sacred ones. Rilke Songs (2002), setting six poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, is the longest and most elaborate piece. Not all the settings are equally satisfying. The very slow “Gazelle” is too static for the text, and the gentle dissonances of “The Swan” are not fully in accord with words about being “confident and calm.” But the light and transparent “Flamingos” and angular “Black Cat,” which starts interestingly with low male voices, are impressive.

Sometimes I Feel Alive (1998), to texts by e.e. cummings, explores aspects of love from the sensual to the selfless through an appealing blend of jazzy pop-music rhythms, canonic writing (at which Wachner excels), and hymnlike choral blending with a near-Ivesian sound.

The longest religious work is the earliest piece here: Missa Brevis dates to 1987, when Wachner was 18. The irregular, Orff-like rhythms of the “Gloria” are especially attractive, and there are some intriguing elements to the setting: “Kyrie eleison” is quite consonant, “Christe eleison” more dissonant.

The shorter religious works that use organ are particularly good (Wachner is himself an organist). Behold the Tabernacle of God (2004), to text from “Revelation,” is an especially effective combination of organ with solo and massed voices in a variety of styles and rhythms. Wachner considers his own style eclectic, but on this CD it seems more combinatorial: A little of this, a little of that, adding up at its best to something new and very personal.

--Mark J. Estren

By Anne Midgette  |  June 24, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  CD reviews  
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