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Pierre BARTHOLOMÉE (b. 1937)
Requiem (2006)
Laudantes Consort; Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles/Guy Janssens
rec. live, Provinciaal Museum Begijnhofkerk, Sint-Truiden, Belgium, 10 November 2007
Texts, no translation
CYPRES CYP1655 [59:01]
Experience Classicsonline

Pierre Bartholomée’s Requiem was commissioned by Guy Janssens and his choir to be the fourth and final instalment in Laudantes Consort’s and Cyprès’ survey of Requiem masses. The trajectory of this series has tracked from the earliest known Requiem by Ockeghem to the present time.

Though large-scale, Bartholomée’s Requiem does not compare to more dramatically conceived works such as Verdi’s Requiem and Britten’s War Requiem or to more intimate settings such as those by Fauré and Duruflé. Bartholomée’s Requiem is scored for mixed chorus and large ensemble consisting of three saxophones, two horns,  trumpet, trombone, tuba, percussion, marimba/vibraphone (one player), accordion, viola, cello and double-bass. It falls into seven sections setting diverse texts such as an excerpt from Isaiah in the Prelude, parts of the Latin Requiem mass, a long poem by Charles Karemano as well as fragments from a letter written to Belgian friends of the composer by a young girl Jessica who escaped the genocide in Rwanda and managed to get to the States to meet her death at the hands of members of her family. Ironically, her letter with many comforting and happy words (“I am with my mother now”) was received in Belgium after she had been murdered in the States. The variety of literary sources and the instrumental line-up as well as the dance-like character of the music suggest that this is no Requiem mass for liturgical use but for the concert hall although it may be performed in churches.

The Prelude, opening with blocks of sound reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum. The Stravinsky piece certainly means much to Bartholomée who often mentions it in interviews. Here he sets words from Isaiah (“The Canticle of Hezekiah”) about the despair of someone seeking God in vain. This text in fact emphasises man’s solitude and hopelessness. It has a hieratic, almost impersonal character. The Kyrie that follows opens rather forcefully and unfolds in complex polyphony. The music seems to peter out although it ends with a brutal, dismissive bang. The ensuing Dies Irae is not of the furious, more dramatic sort that one hears in the Verdi or Britten works, but is rather understated, opening in desolation with the voices singing over percussion ostinato and considerable instrumental activity. It unfolds culminating in a gaping, awe-stricken section at “mors stupebit”. The Requiem’s core is the fourth section Urupfu, a Rwandan word meaning “death” and the title of a long poem by Charles Karemano. The setting of Urupfu is interspersed with excerpts from Jessica’s letter to her Belgian friends on her arrival in the States and with further parts of the ordinary Latin requiem mass (Libera animas de ore leonis and Hostias). This long section – the most developed in the entire work – is also characterised by dance-like rhythms that are also a recurrent feature throughout the whole work. After this hugely varied section, the composer again returns to parts of the liturgy such as the Sanctus which is set in a rather unassertive way. Again it’s a far cry from the expected song of praise, in which pauses tend to emphasise man’s uncertainty. The Agnus Dei is another unusual setting that tends to emphasise “the scandal of Christ’s death”, the Lamb of God sacrificed to redeem man’s faults. To a certain extent, Jessica, too, is a Lamb of God, though sacrificed for rather more obscure reasons. The Epilogue brings a sort of summation by recalling life and death with words from Jessica’s letter (“Je grandis doucement”) and from Karemano’s Urupfu. A line from a poem by Henry Bauchau, with whom Bartholomée has collaborated on several occasions (his operas Oedipe sur la route and La Lumière Antigone as well as his concert aria Le Rêve de Diotime), brings a final, tiny ray of hope: Le chant de l’alouette ne vieillit pas (“the song of the lark never gets old”).

Through the sheer variety of its literary sources and a thought-provoking approach Bartholomée’s Requiem is the work of a true humanist aware of our troubled times and of man’s response to them. His powerful, deeply-felt work is not of the consoling kind but one that is nonetheless quite moving.

Bartholomée’s Requiem was first performed on 8 November 2007 in Brussels and repeated on 9 November and 10 November in the Collégiale de Nivelles and in the Begijnhofkerk in Sint-Truiden respectively. Though the performance in Brussels was quite fine, this one – the third one actually – clearly shows that everyone concerned has a greater command of the work’s many demands. I am glad that this was the one chosen for this release, the more so that the recording – although live – is just splendid.

Hubert Culot




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