An American Requiem on Reference Recordings

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Brace yourself. This is an epic musical opus dedicated to the victims and heroes of September 11th, and is undoubtedly one of the many we will be obligated to endure in the coming years. In Richard Danielpour’s “defense”, the piece was not written as an immediate reaction to the bombings–it grew out of conversations the composer had with war veterans in the late-1990s that eventually led him to create this “tribute to the American soldier” and “examination of war”, which he completed in the summer of 2001. The dedication to the “memory of those who died” in the September 11th attacks was affixed later, just before the work’s premiere last November. The work itself, which uses the Latin requiem texts as well as selections from several American poets, is a clear demonstration of music minus subtlety. It’s bombastic, soupy, lyrical to the point of being campy, and faux-jazzy–it lies somewhere between Bernstein’s Songfest and Orff’s Carmina Burana. A few sections are appallingly obtuse, such as the “jazz” setting of a spiritual, with dotted rhythms that fail to swing and cheap, big-band-like horn injections that were cool effects 50 years ago. Danielpour certainly does know how to burn a barn, and he draws a huge sound from the orchestra with some downright brilliant scoring–but he lacks the quirkiness and quick-witted tomfoolery of Leonard Bernstein, his obvious hero. Bernstein swaggers; Danielpour attempts to create music that conveys power and visceral emotion but his derivative props and obvious gestures offer more bluster than self-assured attitude.

Carl St. Clair leads the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the Pacific Chorale to victory, marching headlong into this blunt work with all the pomp and seriousness needed to pull it off. The orchestra plays valiantly and the chorus sounds rich and strong, offering a truly exciting performance–successfully doing what they can with the material at hand. Stephanie Blythe makes music of Danielpour’s sweet melodies. Both Hugh Smith and Mark Oswald sing bravely, assaying the “jazz” music without being tongue-in-cheek, and all are unafraid to blend with the chorus or with each other. The recording has great energy, with an appropriate and effective “cast of thousands” sound.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none

RICHARD DANIELPOUR - An American Requiem


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