Thursday, September 8, 2016

Randal Thompson's "Requiem"

Naxos 8.559789 (2016)
Randal Thompson: Requiem (1958)
The Philadelphia Singers
David Hayes

Beautifully sung, this first-ever complete recording of one of Randal Thompson's most personal musical statements will be of great interest to aficionados of 20th-century American choral music and the colorful  tradition of the extra-liturgical Requiem from Brahms onward.

Composed in 1958 in response to a commission from the University of California at  Berkeley, Thompson's Requiem is structured as a dialogue between two choral groups; a chorus of mourners and a chorus of the faithful. Texts are drawn from a surprisingly diverse selection of Biblical sources ranging from the books of Job, Lamentations and the Psalms to the prophet Habakkuk and the first epistle to the Corinthians. (The regular insert accompanying the disc includes the complete texts--something of a rarity for Naxos.) The music itself is easily accessible, reflecting Thompson's deep interest in Renaissance madrigals combined with the "white frame"  American hymn tradition tracing back to Billings and Mason; florid, consonant, and--even for its day--stylistically conservative, though undeniably serving up the occasional moment of drama and exultation.

While not lacking in presence, Naxos' recorded sound is decidedly on the dry side with minimal resonance--one would expect greater clarity of diction as a result, but this is not always the case.


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