From the President – Summer 2010 #3

Dear Colleagues,

I hope someone out there is getting something from my weekly summer repertoire sharing. This week……….

Is a beautiful composition (A Requiem) composed by Mack Wilberg; a relatively recent composition, as this was recorded in 2008. This is indeed the Mack Wilberg that we are familiar with….the arranger of so many fine folk songs and other original shorter works. However, it is NOT that Mack Wilberg that we are accustomed to hearing from a compositional standpoint. This very original work of some 30 minutes is a very intimate, introspective choral/orchestral piece that would not be marked as one of Wilberg’s works on first hearing.
Its’ seven movements are also not the traditional movements of the “Requiem” Mass, but rather a collection of texts that express the more serene, quiet and reflective side of death: no trumpets blasting us from the four corners of the earth in this piece! . It starts with the traditional “Requiem aeternam,” followed by a 2nd movement “Kyrie,” a third movement setting of Psalm 121 (I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes), a fourth movement “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place”, a fifth movement “O Nata Lux,” a setting of Psalm 23 for the sixth movement (The Lord Is My Shepherd), and a final movement setting of a text from John 11:25-26 (I Am the Resurrection and the Life), followed by the return of the “Requiem aeterna” text.

I must confess that I was excited when I found this recording, but not so excited upon my first hearing. I am not sure what I expected, but what I did not find was the Mack Wilberg I was familiar with. Maybe that is why it has taken me a while to warm up to this composition; but I must admit now that I find it incredibly satisfying; this MUST be listened to in a quiet setting, away from distractions and noise and work. The opening chords in the strings, a very thick scoring, set the tone for the rest of the piece. I LOVE these opening measures….somehow it perfectly expresses the idea of perpetual light shining on souls. I have a particular idea in my own mind (a product of my Catholic upbringing and religious beliefs) concerning these words, and when this text is set well it always brings tears to my eyes…..I only need to think of the Faure and Durufle settings to set my imagination on fire. Call it what you will, but Wilberg does a great job of setting this text and  brings to my mind words like transcendent, luminosity and introspection. You will be hooked by this first movement as the voices enter in a chant-like fashion. These opening chords will be heard again and again throughout the work in different guises………

The first movement flows immediately into the second in a very natural way, with the double basses sustaining a D pedal, increasing intensity from the orchestra with the chorus singing Kyrie eleison, than subsiding as the baritone soloist intones the plea for mercy in English. This happens twice, but Wilberg chooses NOT to return to the third Kyrie eleison, but moves directly into his setting of Psalm 121; a very personal and emotional setting that features the baritone soloist in the first two stanzas accompanied sparsely by the chorus, and than the chorus in the third stanza followed by both again in the last. This is a very powerful setting with some unexpected turns; you will hear those four chords from the opening in the orchestra used to great advantage.

The fourth movement is really a wonderful experience, with the flute and piccolo imitating birdsongs, but there is still the undercurrent of yearning and longing that has been prevalent from the beginning of the piece. We are most familiar with Brahms beautiful setting of this text from his “German Requiem,” yet this setting is about as far away from Brahms as you can get. It is set for soprano solo, and you will love the ending of this movement.

In the fifth movement the liner notes contrast this 10th century text, traditionally associated with the Feast of the Transfiguration, with the “Perpetual Light” of the first movement. There is a beautiful cello solo in this movement, contrasting with the choir singing in close harmony throughout. A very beautiful and effective setting of this text!

The setting of Psalm 23 is for baritone solo; you will find melodic material in this movement from previous movements. I am very fond of the somewhat unusual setting of this text……it is well conceived and has some very beautiful and powerful moments. The performance by this singer is endowed with artistry, finding every moment worth considering and extracting every ounce of meaning from the text. As I sit here again listening to this movement, I am reminded of the beauty of this particular text and the intrinsic truth that it offers for us all.

The last movement opens with still another orchestral scoring of the opening ideas of this work, with the chorus singing ascending lines intoning the words “I am the resurrection and the life.” It is powerfully effective and brings us to a stunning but serene ending. “Grant to them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

My recording of this work is on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Label, 2008 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. The title is “Requiem” and other choral works. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is the performing choir under the direction of Craig Jessop with the Orchestra at Temple Square. Frederica von Stade is the mezzo, and Bryn Terfel is the baritone. The other works of Wilberg that are on this CD are “Ubi Caritas Et Amor,” “Lord, When The Sense Of Thy Grace,” “O Light Of Life,” “Jesu, The Very Thought Is Sweet,” and “Let Peace Then Still The Strife.”

I am unable to get anything off YouTube that might give you a sample of this work, but if you purchased it you would not be disappointed. At any rate, if you do, I hope you enjoy.


Frank Whitcomb

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