> Danielpour An American Requiem [HC]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Richard DANIELPOUR (born 1956)
An American Requiem (2001)
Stephanie Blythe (mezzo-soprano); Hugh Smith (tenor); Mark Oswald (baritone); Pacific Chorale; Pacific Symphony Orchestra/Carl St. Clair
Recorded: Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Centre, Costa Mesa, CA, November 2001


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During his preliminary work on what was to become An American Requiem, Danielpour interviewed American war veterans who fought either in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. One of the aspects unanimously emphasised by the interviewees was that war, whatever its political and social agendas, is ultimately about human suffering, private or collective. So, in devising the text sequence, Danielpour and his librettist Kim Vaeth chose to contrast the Latin words from the traditional Requiem Mass with English words by Whitman, Emerson, Michael Harper, Hilda Doolittle (poems written in 1944 during the bombing of London) and an anonymous spiritual. This is not an uncommon practice nowadays, and the global impact is quite comparable to that of Brittenís War Requiem. Indeed, Danielpourís An American Requiem bears some passing semblance to Brittenís work, though the composer manages to remain his own man throughout.

The work comprises two main parts of fairly equal length, each falling into shorter sections. The opening Requiem Aeternam opens calmly with tolling chords on the piano supporting the quietly chanting voices. In Vigil I, the mezzo-soprano sings Whitmanís Sea-winds from east and west (from Memories of President Lincoln) and Emersonís Was there no star (in which the poet deplores the death of his son). The chorus takes over with the Kyrie. The martial and war-like Dies Irae section (shades of Stravinsky here) frames the tenorís singing of A Dirge for two Veterans (Whitman again). Vigil II in which the baritone has another Whitman setting (Vigil strange I kept) is followed by the Lacrimosa and the Pie Jesu, the last section of Part I, in which all forces join. Part II opens with the Sanctus-Benedictus. Again, faint echoes of Britten here: the Sanctus is introduced with bell sounds and some solo singing of the tenor. The chorus then freely chants in Pleni sunt coeli building-up some considerable tension towards the mighty outburst of the Hosanna. The ensuing Benedictus is sung by soloists with solo cello and mildly dissonant piano chords and is then repeated by the chorus supported by the orchestra. This leads to a restatement of the majestic Hosanna. There follow two short sections in which the mezzo-soprano sings a poem by Michael Harper and the baritone a spiritual. As far as I am concerned, these sections, cast in a somewhat jazzy manner, are a slight miscalculation (and the only one) on the composerís part, in that they tend to disrupt the prevailing atmosphere of the whole work. The chorusís peaceful singing of the Agnus Dei frames a beautiful setting for mezzo and tenor of another text by Michael Harper. The following Libera Me (chorus and baritone) leads into another pair of songs (tenor and mezzo) on words by Hilda Doolittle. The final section Lux Aeterna, at first unaccompanied, in an appeased mood, ends with a restatement of the Requiem Aeternam thus bringing the piece full circle.

Again, Brittenís War Requiem may have been an inspiring model, but Danielpourís An American Requiem is a substantial, deeply-felt and honest piece of music in which the composerís gifts for dramatic expression often achieved in a simple but telling way are quite evident, as is his fluent writing for voices that always lies comfortably in the voicesí most expressive register. The orchestral writing is expertly done, as it usually is in this composerís highly communicative music. This powerfully expressive work receives a superbly committed reading from all concerned (soloists and chorus sing beautifully and the somewhat enlarged Pacific Symphony orchestra play with a fine sense of ensemble) and is warmly recorded in natural acoustics.

A deeply-felt, well-crafted and often moving piece that undoubtedly deserves wider recognition and that is well worth more than the occasional hearing.

Hubert Culot

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