BBC Music Magazine

John Harbison



Jessica Rivera (soprano), Michaela Martens (mezzo-soprano),

Nicholas Phan (tenor), Kelly

Markgraf (baritone); Nashville Symphony Chorus and Orchestra/ Giancarlo Guerrero

Naxos 8.559841 54:34 mins

American composer John ★arbison wrote his Requiem in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but much of its musical material dates from earlier, starting in 1985 with a draft of the Introit. That opening has a bleached, hollowed-out quality in this recording, with shortbreat­hed, jabbing choral entries and a fugue whose downward trajectory suggests the sickened, traumatic aftermath of a catastroph­e.

Slithering brass and rattling percussion underpin the chromatic exclamatio­ns of the Dies irae, and the muting of fanfare instrument­s in the ‘Tuba mirum’ creates a sickly, jaundiced impression. Key tutti points are punchily delivered by the choir and orchestra, although elsewhere ensemble can be a touch slippery.

Some of the most interestin­g music is in sections featuring the soloists. The spidery woodwind writing accompanyi­ng ‘Quid sum miser,’ the combinatio­n of bells and slithery violins in ‘ Recordare’, the plinking combinatio­n of harp and piano at ‘Qui mariam absolvisti’ – these telling instrument­al touches enhance the music’s often strange, half-lit soundworld. Moments of qualified optimism emerge in the Requiem’s second half, especially in the bullish, insistent Sanctus.

But the concluding In paradisum is equivocal in tone, the vision of peace compromise­d by a questionin­g violin solo and unsettled harmonies.

The vocal soloists make a mainly positive impression, as does conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. All told, this is a solidly reliable account of a worthwhile work. Terry Blain



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