“In recasting the Adagio for mixed choir in 1967, Barber brought to the surface the work's sense of spirituality. In contrast to the sentimental Romanticism of the original, the use of voices provides a reverent Renaissance quality reminiscent of the music of Palestrina or Gabrieli. The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) from the Catholic mass, a humble request for forgiveness and peace, provides the text. Barber's setting is immaculate; the intense climax conveys the most urgent portion of the text, "miserere nobis" (have mercy on us), while the blissfully contented conclusion begs, "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace). The notes themselves are essentially unchanged from the Adagio, aside from a few necessary voicing adjustments to accommodate the sopranos. From a performance standpoint, the Agnus Dei is one of the more difficult works in the choral repertoire, requiring immense lung capacity, ability to sustain long lines, and an extensive dynamic range.”The recording and performances, as usual for the Harmonia Mundi label, are excellent. Agnus Dei: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGiB_ohUszs Morten Lauridsen/Lux aeterna/Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton, cond. (Harmonia Mundi SACD) Lux aeterna (1997), one of Lauridsen's most popular compositions, is instilled with warmth and consolation. According to Lauridsen it's an “intimate work of quiet serenity
“Fauré’s Requiem is noted for its calm, serene and peaceful outlook. Anyone looking for morose themes is searching in the wrong place. Instead, here we find musical solace in a work that focuses not on the morbid, but on the supposedly restful and fear-free nature of death.
Of all seven sections, the Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei and In Paradisum emerge as the most glorious, filled with rich, soulful melodies. The work garnered the praise of many other composers – not least Camille Saint-Saëns, who thought it divine. It was performed at Fauré’s own funeral in 1924.”“Introit et Kyrie” (Fauré Requiem): httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xGyfbROzWY Verdi/Messa da Requiem/Orchestra e Coro Dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano, cond. (EMI CD) This is the place where melodrama can be found. There are many recordings of Verdi's Requiem (1874) but Pappano's, with an all-star lineup of soloists, is especially striking. From the unusually hushed and mysterious-sounding chorus at the beginning through the rest of the Requiem's fire and brimstone demeanor, Pappano's high-energy approach is arresting. Great sound, too: sharp, clear, spacious, and well-defined. After listening to the “Dies irae” selection, stay tuned for the calming Requiem aeternum with its short falling melodic phrase that sounds remarkably similar to the one used by Dvořák in his Stabat Mater. “Dies irae”: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQBIvp0SIM0&list=PL7izI6TVytHYPWBahKzFQDJOkes2ROWo0&index=10 Mexican Baroque: Music from New Spain/Chanticleer with the Chanticleer Sinfonia (Das Alte Werk/Teldec CD) A program of attractive Baroque music from an unexpected source, performed by the acclaimed Chanticleer vocal ensemble. Ignacio de Jerusalem (1707 – 1769), born in Italy, was a prolific composer who moved to Mexico in 1743 but didn't write music that reflected the native folk songs and instruments of Mexico. Rick Anderson, in his album review, explained:
“In 17th and 18th century New England, transplanted Englishmen like Daniel Read, Abraham Wood, and especially William Billings were composing beautiful but rough-hewn and distinctly American vocal music for use in what were called ‘singing schools.' Far to the west and south, in what was then called New Spain and would later be called Mexico, natives and transplanted Spaniards were composing liturgical music of a richness and complexity that was worthy of the greatest cathedrals of Europe – and teaching their native converts to do the same. This disc showcases the works of two of 18th century Mexico's finest composers: the Mexican-born Manuel de Zumaya and the transplanted European Ignacio de Jerusalem...The latter is represented by a polychoral Mass in D Minor, a responsory Responsorio Segundo de S.S. José>, and a gorgeous Dixit Dominus setting written in six sections...Accompanied by an ad hoc period instrument ensemble dubbed the Chanticleer Sinfonia for this album, Chanticleer does its usual job of effortlessly and thrillingly bringing this music to vivid life, and the recorded sound could hardly be brighter and richer. This is one of Chanticleer's finest and most satisfying albums.”Exactly! Responsorio Segundo de S.S. José: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aCEBGYb3pg&list=PL8497h7BwQBCkAPz78SXLdCmpxj52e6PR Testament/The Turtle Creek Chorale and Dallas Wind Symphony/Timothy Seelig, Artistic Director (Reference Recordings CD) The Turtle Creek Chorale does it again! Testament includes pieces by several 20th century composers including Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein that have been arranged for male chorus and woodwinds. The results are wonderful, especially the song “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide, Bernstein's operetta based on Voltaire's 1759 novella of the same name. Although Candide wasn't received well when it opened, the music was an immediate hit – e.g., the overture has become an orchestral standard and one of the most frequently-performed orchestral compositions by a 20th century American composer. This is a show-stopping arrangement I enjoy no matter how many times I play it. “Make Our Garden Grow”: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euuMSHiYQLo Lux Aeterna/The Gents/Peter Dijkstra, cond. (Channel SACD) Two discs featuring another all-male vocal ensemble like Chanticleer and the Turtle Creek Chorale that produces “a highly polished, rich and smooth sound, with impeccable intonation” (International Record Review). I play this recording primarily for the pieces by Poulenc. If you aren't familiar with Poulenc, start with “Salut, Dame Sainte,” the first prayer of Quatre Petites prières de Saint Françios d'Assise (1949): It's only a few minutes long but displays several elements of Poulenc's harmonic color and style. “Salut, Dame Sainte”: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ah8ehO5gmaM John Rutter/Requiem/The City of London Sinfonia and Cambridge Singers/John Rutter, cond. (Collegium CD) John Rutter's much-loved and much recorded Requiem (1985) is a favorite with choirs and one of my favorites, too. Rutter was influenced by Fauré’s Requiem and wanted to write his own Requiem that was “intimate rather than grandiose, contemplative and lyric rather than dramatic, and ultimately moving towards light rather than darkness...” This recording is especially interesting because it's conducted by Rutter, resulting in a performance that is as close to the composer's intentions as possible. Requiem (Collegium): httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-nEpqSmEI0 Shaman/Toby Twining Music (Catalyst CD) And now for something completely different. Toby Twining is a composer who uses unusual vocal sounds to form a unique musical palette. (See “Whatever Happened to Honk, Bonk, Boing and Blomp?” in Issue 126 where I discuss extended vocal techniques.) Shaman incorporates vocal traditions from around the world including American jazz, African yodeling, and Mongolian overtone singing, as well as language like “googly-goo” in a musical context – a blend that helps redefine singing. The program is refreshing and Twining's a cappella ensemble handles the sounds and harmonies effortlessly. “Hotel Destiné” in particular is accessible, jazzy, and lively...an enjoyable contrast to some of the other music in this month's column. “Hotel Destiné”: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2YhML0haCU Graham Olson, AllMusic, 2012. The third version was popular for much of the 20th century. However, in the 1970s and 1980s several Fauré scholars along with the English composer/conductor John Rutter worked to reconstruct Fauré’s original 1893 orchestration. Many consider that version to be closest to Fauré’s original intent, although Fauré himself never renounced the larger version for full orchestra, stating that it was appropriate for certain “concert” situations. (LA Phil “At-A-Glance” program notes.) Classic fm, “Music,” 2022. Chanticleer was named in honor of the "clear-singing" rooster in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Rick Anderson, “Overview,” AllMusic, 1994. There were many revisions after the disappointing opening in 1956. The "final revised version," conducted by Bernstein, was recorded by DGG in 1989. Header image: The Turtle Creek Chorale. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/TriPTruong.