JOHN FRANDSEN: Requiem – Teitur, vocal/ Sine Bundgaard, sop./ Andrea Pellegrini, mezzo-sop./ Peter Lodahl, tenor/ Halvor Fr. Melien, bass/ Danish National Concert Choir/ Danish Nat. Sym. Orch./ Henrik Vagn Christensen – DaCapo stereo-only SACD 6.220649-50 (2 discs), 96:26 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

Composers in general, when looking to make the “big statement”, inevitably turn toward the venerable form of the Requiem, even those who have little or no actual beliefs in religious values associated with it (Brahms), or those who coopt it for other reasons (Britten), or even those who believe it but seek to tame the more overtly “bothersome” aspects of it (Faure). John Frandsen has decided, for the most part, to embrace the totality of the full requiem mass, this time not seeking to lessen the difficult and sometimes frightening aspects of it.

He has good reason—the impetus behind this creation is the very real incident that happened in 2011 on an island in the Oslo Fjord where 69 young people were massacred by a madman. How can one begin to capture such an event, or even to memorialize it? The obstacles facing such an effort are indeed difficult, yet Frandsen succeeds on many levels. He lets the full impact of the text of the Requiem—especially the Dies irae—have complete sway over the emotional aspects of this hallowed sequence, and doesn’t begin to lessen the force that some of the more traditional composers who have set this—like Verdi—allowed to memorable effect. His music is not difficult—anyone who likes the Britten War Requiem will have no trouble with this from a purely musical standpoint—and in fact Britten serves a model in more than one way.

Though the Latin text is set in its fullness, Frandsen decided to intersperse the poetry of Danish writer Simon Grotrian, who turned stylistically to the creation of strophic-type hymnody that reflects the great traditions of an earlier age though with a twist of realism—the notes call it “surrealism” but I don’t think that fits—that spices the interludes. However, these texts are sung by Faroese singer and songwriter Teitur, and the flaw in this conception is that his voice is completely incongruous with the nature of the music offered. As lovely as some of these interludes are, Teitur’s folksy vocal timbre is a diffident mismatch with the very nature of the melodies given, which for me spoils much of the effect of this huge work. It also doesn’t help that his voice, probably due to its lack of volume, is miked very closely, giving the effect of unnaturalness and obtrusiveness in an otherwise sacred setting.

The hi-res audio is stereo-only (not noted on the album) and is radiant and broad-ranging. A great effort that could have been better.

—Steven Ritter