Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur fellow John Harbison has composed a Requiem for our times- a moving choral work that incorporates the composer’s distinctive sensibilities while drawing deeply on the tradition of Latin sacred music. Completed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Harbison’s Requiem is full of dramatic passages from singers and musicians alike, with abundant opportunities for vocal soloists, brass and percussion to shine. “I wanted my piece to have a sense of the inexorability of the passage of time,” the composer says, “for good and ill, of the commonality of love and loss.” Giancarlo Guerrero is the six-time Grammy-winning music director of the Nashville Symphony, music director of the Wroclaw Philharmonic in Poland, andRead more principal guest conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon, Portugal. A passionate proponent of new music, he has championed a number of America’s most respected composers through recordings, commissions, and eight world premieres with the Nashville Symphony, including the Grammy-winning recording of Michael Daugherty’s Tales of Hemingway.
The Requiem is original and striking, but in a relatively traditional mold, with gorgeous solo lines—the thread of melody that runs through the piece unifies and humanises it—choral and vocal counterpoint that dates to the Baroque but in modern tonal harmonies, and a richness of emotional depth and harmonic and textural intricacy that make it a more than worthy addition to the distinguished tradition of concert requiems.
Requiemby John Harbison Performer:
Jessica Rivera (Soprano),
Michaela Martens (Mezzo Soprano),
Nicholas Phan (Tenor),
Kelly Markgraf (Baritone)
Nashville Symphony Orchestra,
Nashville Symphony Chorus
Period: Contemporary Written: United States
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A Requiem Review for a BirthdayJanuary 8, 2019By Greg Hettmansberger (Sun Prairie, WI)See All My Reviews"We dont need a reason to join thousands of other music lovers around the world in honoring John Harbison, the Pulitzer Prize-winning (among many other high honors) composer born December 20, 1938. But it is particularly fitting (even if it sounds a bit bizarre) to doubly mark the occasion with a review of the first recording of his Requiem. The Naxos release came out early this fall and when I couldnt get it reviewed in a timely fashion, I had the idea to link it to his birthday. Full texts are provided in the booklet, along with a fascinating note by Harbison; it gives the listener scant clues as to specific musical characteristics of the workbut this is more than made up for by the fascinating tale of the works 15-year+ genesis. Harbison wrote most of the first movement Introit in 1985, even though he had no reason (or commission) to complete such a major undertaking. He was led to return to the project in 1991 and again in 1995 (the latter when he was part of a group of 13 composers asked to write one movement each for the Requiem of Reconciliation, dedicated to the victims of World War II). On this occasion, Harbison wrote the Recordare, and as he had seen four years earlier, the musical seeds from the Introit were still at work. In 1999 he spontaneously composed the Hostias, and then decided to complete the work, commission or no. But before he was finished he was in fact commissioned in 2001 by the Boston Symphonyand signed the contract just days before the 9/11 attacks. Harbison adds some other personal details, but quickly reminds the reader/listener that his goal was: I wanted a way to jump with the text from past to present to future, from they to we to I. Indeed, the best was to describe the piece is that it quickly demands focused attention, and as quickly rewards a repeated hearing. One finds neither long-breathed melodies nor rampant dissonance, but rather music of multiple layers of textures and subtle motivic and harmonic links. Harbison sticks to the Latin liturgical text (as opposed to interspersing poetry a la Britten in his War Requiem), and he divides thirteen movements into two large sections. Thus we get sequences that composers of more famous Requiems (Verdi and Berlioz come to mind) eschewed: Lux aeterna, and In paradisum for example. Harbison notes that he used a rather small orchestra, but the Nashville Symphony sounds like it has a full inventory of instruments on hand. They and the Nashville Symphony Chorus are under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero, and the ensemble is full of potent streams of color, particularly from the woodwind and percussion sections. Four vocal soloists are also called for, in this case soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens, tenor Nicholas Phan and baritone Kelly Markgraf. Harbison employs them in creative ways as well; there are no solo numbers for any of them. Here or there one singer might have an extended passage, but the other singers quickly add new elements. As is too often the case, my first hearing was in my car, and sooner than usual I realized how inadequate that was going to be in terms of detailed listening. What I did glean was the overall shape (the work is just under an hour, and really seems to pass quickly, given the full use of available text). Yes, the opening of the Dies irae grabs ones attention, but not in the obvious thunder and lightning fashion of Verdi, or even Mozart. On the second youve-got-my-attention hearing, fascinating details emerged: in the opening Introit the words exaudi orationem meum (hear my prayer) plead with a poignancy that cuts to ones heart immediately. The opening of the Tuba mirum, where the trumpet summons the dead to judgment is no massed brass section, but unsettling exchanges of muted trumpets. Indeed the rest of Part I, which takes us through the Lacrymosa (Tears), is decidedly turbulent, with quieterbut still intensepleading in the Recordare. The opening of Part II is the Offertorium, with all four solo voices overlapping against a background of striking wind colors in the orchestra. Three of the vocalists set a very high standard, which tenor Phan cant always match. The Sanctus is the closest thing to joyful energy in the work, and the ensuing Agnus dei spotlights the concertmaster and solo soprano, answered in hushed phrases by the chorus. Lux aeterna is almost demanding in its command for eternal light, The Libera me is a final request for salvation, and the final In paradisum is string and choir-dominated, restrained but never completely at peace. This latest entry in Naxos American Classics series is a worthy release in every wayand it is not too soon to label Harbisons Requiem an enduring addition to a very special genre. Certainly here in Madison it gives us heightened anticipation of a series events here in February, marked by the world premiere of his Viola Sonata."Report Abuse