John Harbison Requiem – A Contemporary Choral Masterwork

What impressed me most listening to the Requiem was how well it all hung together. Harbison started sketching parts of it back in 1985. A version of the “Sanctus” was written in 1991 for a commission. In 1995, what would become the “Introit” was written for Harbison’s contribution to the multi-composer work, Requiem of Reconciliation. The “Hostias” section was quickly composed in 1999. But the work didn’t all come together until 2001 when the Boston Symphony commissioned it.

Despite this history, the work seems to flow organically from one movement to the next. There’s no “Kyrie Eleison” or “Pie Jesu,” but otherwise Harbison follows the traditional outline of a requiem mass.

Requiem is clearly a product of its time. The music, though primarily tonal, uses chromatic motion and dissonance in a contemporary fashion. And yet there’s something timeless in it. The choral writing especially reminded me of Brahms. Not so much in its actual sound, but in the fullness of the ensemble and the richness of the harmonies (albeit with a modern edge).

Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero masterfully guides his forces through this work. Harbison says that “this piece is not coercively about how you should feel, but rather an offer of a place to be true to your own thoughts.” Guerrero achieves that, I think. The orchestra and chorus have a warm, rich sound. The soloists also seem to be a part — rather than apart — from the ensemble.

Requiem is one of those works that I think should be experienced in its totality — not in isolated movements. Only by taking the sonic journey from start to finish can one get the experience that Harbison was striving for — a journey with your own thoughts.

John Harbison: Requiem
Jessica Rivera, soprano; Michaela Martens, mezzo-soprano;
Nicholas Phan, tenor; Kelly Markgraf, baritone
Nashville Symphony Chorus and Orchestra; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor
Naxos 8.559841
World Premier Recording

More Recent Posts

  • Harry Partch Sonata Dementia – More, Please

    Tags: , , , ,

    I’ve always loved the music of Harry Partch. These new recordings by Bridge Records do a tremendous service to the world of music. Hearing the Partch ensemble perform with copies of Partch’s original hand-made instruments. That’s important because it means these instruments can really be played, not handled like irreplaceable museum pieces. And the Partch […]

  • Eli Cook at Offbeat Roadhouse, Aug 30

    Tags: , , , ,

    Blues man Eli Cook will pull into Offbeat Roadhouse on Friday night, August 30, from 8-9 for an acoustic concert which will also be broadcast on WTJU. Sure you could listen on the radio (91.1 FM) or on-line, and even video stream it, but concerts always sound better with you as part of the studio audience. Offbeat Roadhouse takes place each Friday […]

  • Atlantic Weekly closes out its Charlottesville City Market season, Aug 24

    Tags: , , ,

    Coming up this Saturday morning, August 24, from 8 til noon, Atlantic Weekly returns to close out its season at Charlottesville City Market.  Besides the usual great music and conversation with some of the local vendors,  there will be live music from The Weedeaters! While you can of course just listen on WTJU as usual, come on out and […]

  • Carl Czerny Piano Trios Brilliantly Entertaining

    Tags: , , , , , , ,

    Five piano trio receive their world recording premiers with this release. In a sense, it’s not that big a deal. Carl Czerny wrote over 1,000 works, over 800 of them published. There are still many, many Czerny works awaiting their first recording. The trios presented here are certainly worthy of attention. The 1830 Deux Trios […]

  • New Jazz Adds – 8/20/2019

    New Jazz Adds – 8/20/2019 Erik Applegate & Time Child – Woodstock! (Artist Alliance): “On their new album WOODSTOCK!, bassist/composer Erik Applegate and TimeChild celebrate the music and spirit of the watershed festival which sees its 50th Anniversary this year. A mix of original songs and reinterpretations of pieces performed that seminal weekend, the band […]

  • New Blues News – 8/20/2019

    New Blues News – 8/20/2019 Arthur Adams – Here to make you Feel Good (Cleopatra Blues): This appears to be Arthur Adams ninth release. He has a smooth approach which would best qualify as blue soul. He has a mellow voice and creates a pleasant sound throughout. He wrote or co-wrote each song. Backing musicians […]