Notable Sacred Music of 2010
Christianity Today has traditionally made a list of the year's top music, but those lists generally represent only the best in popular music. Now, for the first time, we've assembled a list of some of the year's best sacred music, primarily in the choral and classical genres. (Our list of the year's best popular music will post in January.)
We asked Jane Holstein, an editor with Hope Publishing Company and an arranger, choral clinician, organist, worship planner, and concert artist, to compile this list.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
On the heels of last January's Heavensong, the eminent Mormon Tabernacle Choir released this collection of their most-requested songs on two CDs—plus a bonus CD/DVD with rarely seen or heard performances. This beautifully crafted compilation explodes with energy from the first track through the 32nd, with full orchestral accompaniments and the brilliance for which this chorus is known. Highlights include "How Great Thou Art," "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" and Handel's "Hallelujah" from Messiah. New tracks include "Danny Boy," "Glorious Everlasting," and the crowd-pleasing Nigerian song "Betelehemu," complete with African drums, tambourines and shouts of joy. It's great listening, and for those seeking to trace the rich heritage of American sacred music, an essential resource. This 360-voice choir has performed for ten U.S. presidents, five presidential inaugurations, two presidential funerals, the American Bicentennial, and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, where they sang Call of the Champions under the direction of composer John Williams (included here).
Light & Gold (Decca)
This young American composer (he's 41) has ignited choral singing in high schools and universities in a far-reaching way. Whitacre's music is a journey often derived from a single tone that expands into a full tapestry of sound—as in the track titled "hope, faith, life, love" (words by e.e. cummings). He's taken his music to the next step by bridging the gap between concert halls and virtual networking with his first Virtual Choir 2010 (a YouTube hit), and plans are underway to create the world's largest online Virtual Choir 2011. This debut album with Decca is his first to conduct and record featuring an elite ensemble comprised of the Eric Whitacre Singers and the British group Laudibus. The Latin poem "Lux Aurumque," the song conceived for Virtual Choir 2010 and which kicks off this album, is translated as: Light, warm and heavy as pure gold and angels sing softly to the new-born babe. "Five Hebrew Love Songs" features warm of strings, while the unparalleled King's Singers are spotlighted in a dramatic portrayal of a William Butler Yeats poem "The Stolen Child." Whitacre's enjoyable liner notes tell the stories behind the music, as in "The Seal Lullaby," which transcends far beyond anything ordinary.
John Elliot Gardiner
Bach Cantatas, Vol. 18 (Solo Deo Gloria)
This is the final release from the remarkable Bach Cantatas Pilgrimage that began Christmas Day 1999. The album includes recordings of all of Bach's church cantatas performed live over the course of a year by the exceptional Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, directed by John Eliot Gardiner. This release, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, opens with one of his best known cantatas "Christen, atzet diesen Tag" (Christians, engrave this day) in an extraordinary performance that nails the balance between full ensemble and solo movements. Then it's "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" (a.k.a. Gloria from the B Minor Mass), plus four cantatas for the Epiphany (including "Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen"). It's packaged in a stylish 2-CD set with a useful index of the entire series of volume numbers, liturgical weeks, BWV numbers and cover art. This independent label has accomplished something unique with these first-rate recordings made in beautiful churches throughout Europe—including Weimar, Leipzig, and Hamburg (as heard in this volume). A superb presentation of sacred music from the Baroque era.