SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

THIERRY LANCINO: Requiem – soloists/Philharmonic Orch. and Choir of Radio France/ Eliahu Inbal – Naxos audio-only Blu-ray

A powerful work of great substance—but it’s not your traditional requiem.

Published on January 29, 2012

THIERRY LANCINO: Requiem – Heidi Grant Murphy (Everyman)/ Nora Gubisch (The Sibyl)/ Stuart Skelton (David)/ Nicolas Courjal (David, the Warrior)/ Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir of Radio France/ Eliahu Inbal, conductor – Naxos multichannel audio-only Blu-ray 0020, 72:08 ****:

According to the notes for this release, Lancino’s commission came about from the combined efforts of Radio France, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, and the French Ministry of Culture in order to “renew the tradition of the Requiem”. As a genuine requiem, this work has little to offer—it is not a real requiem as the genre has been defined for centuries, a prayer for the reposed. It is not even a para-requiem in the manner of Brahms. The notes refer to it as a sort of oratorio, and I don’t think that is far off the mark; even though the piece doesn’t tell a “story” per se like most oratorios do, there is enough back and forth dialogue and interaction to at least smack of a storyline.

Lancino reveals what he feels is a big discovery: the incorporation of “pagan” elements into the famous medieval liturgical sequence Dies Irae (Day of wrath). The word which clues him in happens to be “Sibylla”, as in “Dies iræ! Dies illa Solvet sæclum in favilla: Teste David cum Sibylla!” (“The day of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes as foretold by David and the sibyl!” – thanks to Wikipedia for the translation). The idea evolved that his requiem should be based around a dialog between the prophet King David and the sibyl—the prophetess. It makes for an interesting dramatic encounter but does remove us from any real historical connection to a requiem aside from the title itself. In reality, the sibyl, more specifically the Cumaean sibyl of the Romans, whom Virgil’s Aeneas consults before his descent into the underworld, was considered by the Christian church as a pagan foreshadowing of the coming of a savior—Jesus—as also mentioned by Virgil. This is not unusual as several of the famous philosophers like Plato were also given roles like this, showing the universality of the Christian message found in very disparate sources.

But if we take the work on its own terms, considering this requiem about as much a liturgical work as Bernstein’s Mass, it has moments of great power and beauty, featuring ethereal and delicate moments to overpowering full choral passages of tremendous force. Lancino, who spent much of his life working in electronic music, displays a real talent for dramatic communication and even some lovely, albeit intense, melodic passages.

This is a Naxos Blu-ray audio-only disc, evidently the audiophile medium of choice for the company, and the results are sterling, the 5.1 lossless surround sound capturing the full force of all the performers in enviable clarity and detail. I think that even those allergic to modern music will find much to enjoy here, as the composer’s style is not irrevocably wedded to dissonance for dissonance’s sake, but only in the service of the dramatic element, with many more familiar tonal characteristics wedded as well. Definitely worth a hearing.

—Steven Ritter

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