ROBIN GIBB, RJ GIBB: Titanic Requiem – Rsvp Voices/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Cliff Masterson – Redbreast Records, 61:32 *****:
Yes, astute reader, if you are awake and old enough you will realize that this Robin Gibb is the Robin Gibb of the smash 60s group the Bee Gees, and the “RJ” is his son Robin-John. They were initially contacted in Belfast about writing some songs for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic (which sailed from Belfast as you recall). That project didn’t come to fruition but the idea remained, and RJ’s classical training gave him the idea of using the traditional Latin Requiem as an anchor and “genuine” memorial to those 1,517 people who perished at 2:20 AM on the morning of April 15, 1912. Robin agreed, and they were off to the races.
You might be tempted to think “here’s another classical piece by a rock composer” and you would be right. They did not orchestrate the thing themselves—that was accomplished by conductor Cliff Masterson—but neither does the work suffer a dearth of inspiration as do the McCartney crossovers. The feeling, lyricism, and profound emotion are in every bar, and this is a far cry from anything even remotely “popular” in nature. In fact, it has more in common with Mozart than McCartney, and if you didn’t know who the composers are you would never guess their origins. Well, maybe not “never”; the music does have a sort of unapologetic directness to it that you often find in film scores and television soundtracks. But it is much more than that, with the choral writing fully professional and the exquisite melodic content second to none despite the Hollywood feel to some of the louder passages.
Not all of the fifteen movements are choral; three are “songs” reflecting 1) a lover at daybreak thinking of his beloved, 2) a child realizing that her father didn’t make it off the boat and that there will always be an empty seat on Christmas day at the table, and 3) a husband begging his wife to know that he is always but a breath away, and that she should never cry alone. Each song is affectionate and touching, and the instrumental movements are also very beautifully conceived. This is an album that grabbed me unawares, and instead of spending time trying to penetrate depths that are not there I just reveled in the pure beauty of the music. Easily the best work I have ever heard by a former pop star and it would have captured my attention if I never knew the name “Gibb”.
Haydn Quartets, spanning two decades