ROBERT MORAN: Trinity Requiem – Innova

by | Sep 15, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

ROBERT MORAN “Trinity Requiem” = Trinity Requiem; Seven Sounds Unseen; Notturno in Weiss; Requiem for a Requiem – Trinity Youth Chorus/ Members of Trinity Choir/Robert Ridgell, conductor/ Musica Sacra/Richard Westenburg, conductor/ The Esoterics/Eric Banks, conductor/ Philip Blackburn, electronics – Innova Recordings Innova 244, 68:08 (Distr. by Naxos) ****:
This is a beautiful and somewhat surprising collection of vocal music by Robert Moran.  The surprise here, for me, was that I knew some – but certainly not all – of the music of Robert Moran and was expecting something alltogether different. I know Moran’s work from several different sources; most notably when he was composer-in-residence at Northwestern University and head up the amazing “waltz project” and I was also very familiar with some of his many theater works, such as “The Dracula Diary”, “Desert of Roses” and “The Juniper Tree”, a collaboration with Philip Glass. I have always found Moran’s work attractive but this disc shows another deeper side.
The title work to this set is reason enough to get this disc and listen to it carefully, quietly and be prepared to be moved. The “Trinity Requiem” was written for the Trinity Youth Chorus from Manhattan and, specifically, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As Moran originally pointed out to chorus master Robert Ridgell, there is something potentially unsettling about the traditional Latin requiem being set to children’s voices. Ultimately, however, there is poignancy and a tranquility to the beautiful, airy, limited tessitura of young voices en masses that works exceptionally well with this text and this subject. I even found that the closing ‘In Paradisum’ reminded me a bit of that of Gabriel Faure and hit me the same way. As director Ridgell points out that people under twenty one barely have a solid response to “9-11-01”, let alone if there are ten years old or less, but there are many, many cases throughout history of children losing their parents, globally, in acts of war that makes the relevance – and the impact – clear. There is even a moment in the Offertory where a police siren roaring down the street during the recording was caught on the recording and chosen to be kept in; understandably and effectively.
The other works on this wonderful disc are also attention-getting and beautiful.  “Seven Sounds Unseen” is actually based on fragments of text that John Cage had given to Moran over the past thirty years and calls for the twenty singers to move, physically, to different locations on the stage, changing the voicing, dynamics and depth created. The vocal writing is lovely, tonal, and blends amazingly throughout the random elements of the piece. The text, in many ways, is secondary to the sound but the effect is stunning; this is an unusual but hypnotically gorgeous work. Musica Sacra and director Richard Westenburg perform with great sensitivity.
“Notturno in Weiss” (Nocturne in White) was written for the vocal ensemble The Esoterics, and their director Eric Banks. In this case, the text is in German and to an original poem by Christian Morgenstern. The poem makes reference the white of a lily serving as an analogy to life and death, light and dark, stillness and cold. The inclusion of two harps into the texture makes the overall effect beautiful, yet chilling. This is another absolutely wonderful work whose harmonies and voicing seems to make time, itself, stop; suspended in a form of pure emotion.
This collection concludes with a remix of several of Moran’s works on the Innova label. “Requiem for a Requiem” designed, created and mastered by composer and sound designer Philip Blackburn is very interesting, indeed, but it very nearly does not belong in this collection. This disc could end with any of the three choral works and be 100% satisfying unto itself.
I have a new found awareness of and admiration for Robert Moran’s music. This is one of those collections that, if this is the only thing you have ever heard by Mr. Moran, it immediately makes the listener take notice and makes you want to go find more. It is absolutely stunning. Kudos to Innova for continuing to find and showcase important works by American composers and to Robert Moran: thank you!
—Daniel Coombs