LANCINO Requiem • Eliahu Inbal, cond; Heidi Grant Murphy (Everyman); Nora Gubisch (Sibyl); Stuart Skelton (Read more class="ARIAL12i">David); Nicolas Courjal (David, the Warrior); French RPO & Ch • NAXOS NBD0020 (Blu-ray audio: 72:08 Text and Translation)
This is an audio-only Blu-ray disc; the video component is used only for menu access, with a generic colored-light display during the music along with the option of onscreen texts or translations (which accounts for the text icon in the headnote; the texts are not included in the booklet). The audio choices are the standard PCM stereo (if you want that, there’s no reason to buy the Blu-ray) and DTS-HD 5.1 surround, with only ambiance in the back channels. The vocal soloists are placed near the listener, with the orchestra and chorus more distant—just a bit too much so—but precisely imaged.
French composer Thierry Lancino, now apparently a Manhattan resident, has held several posts since his conservatory studies in electroacoustic music in the 1970s, but what seems to have stuck with him was his period at IRCAM in the 1980s, which makes him (via association with Pierre Boulez and his institute) a grandson of the Darmstadt School. This is readily apparent in the orchestral component of Lancino’s vast 2009 Requiem, but far less so in the solo vocal lines, which are declamatory but not angular or leaping; some of the choral writing in the Latin sections is chantlike, as in Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Lancino clearly knows the difference between the human voice and an orchestral instrument.
In his Requiem, Lancino follows the lead of Britten and a few other composers in mingling new texts with the traditional Latin rite. He was struck by the vestige of pagan influence in the third line of the Dies irae text: The day of wrath was “foretold by David and the sibyl.” Sibyls, seers in the ancient world, were appropriated during the later Hellenic period as prophets of Christianity. The fabled individual who interests Lancino here is the Cumaean Sibyl, who asked Apollo for eternal life; this he granted, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth as well. Over the centuries she became hopelessly decrepit, her suffering ever increasing. In the Satyricon she is asked what she wants, and she replies, “I want to die.” Thus, in Lancino’s Requiem, the Sibyl figure is one who aches for death as release from her cursed existence, while the warrior-poet-king David, sensing that his own end is near, affirms contentedly that believers in Yahweh (and later, of course, in Christ) would not “die forever,” however you wish to interpret that promise. So we have two characters longing for death for entirely different reasons, wandering through the usual Latin text.
Lancino differentiates his characters not only by employing different voice types, but also by reflecting their individuality in the instrumentation; the Sibyl, for instance, is first heard in the company of balafon, waterphone, and prepared piano, evoking the sounds of ancient pagan rituals.
There’s a touch of Honegger in the Rex Tremendae, and Heidi Grant Murphy’s soprano solo in the following Ingemisco is especially haunting. All the vocal soloists, in fact, are quite fine, and the orchestral execution under veteran conductor Eliahu Inbal is also fine, although the chorus sometimes sounds ragged. The main problem is that most of Lancino’s orchestral writing just is not very interesting: dissonant chords and clusters, percussive clang, none of it put to the intelligible use that we find, for example, in Messiaen. It’s a style that had its last gasp in the 1970s, during Lancino’s student days, and has little to convey to us today. This is the musical equivalent of a kitchen that’s still decorated in the 1970s fad colors of avocado and harvest gold: overbearing and hopelessly dated.
If, however, that sort of thing interests you, Lancino dresses it up with enough fascinating textual complication, and it is presented in such fine performance and audio, that his Requiem could appeal to listeners with those particular tastes.
Heidi Grant Murphy (Soprano),
Nora Gubisch (Mezzo Soprano),
Stuart Skelton (Tenor),
Nicolas Courjal (Bass)
Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra,
Radio France Chorus