Harbison: Requiem

Reviewed on Mon 17 Dec, 2018

What results is impassioned music shot through with a healing balm of compassion recognisably Harbison’s own in its modernist leanings.

Although John Harbison began his powerful, potent Requiem as early as 1985, he completed it in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It bears the profound pain and emotional scars of that atrocity. Adding a personal aspect to the public dimension are the names of “loved ones” close to the composer inscribed on the score who died during its composition. What results is impassioned music shot through with a healing balm of compassion recognisably Harbison’s own in its modernist leanings (albeit accented with more ancient idioms), its fierce intellectual bite and the lucidity of its outrage against inhuman suffering. An ardent quartet of soloists provide vivid contributions even while tending towards operatic intensity where something less theatrical is required. Especially striking throughout is a stirring orchestral directness and richly conjured choral vehemence, voiced with taut deliberateness by Harbison and ably realised by Giancarlo Guerrero’s articulate Nashville forces. Harbison provides his own booklet notes for a superbly engineered and produced recording.
–Michael Quinn