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Robert MORAN (b. 1937)
Trinity Requiem (2011) [30:06]
Seven Sounds Unseen (2006) [22:44]
Notturno in Weiss (1992) [8:12]
Requiem for a Requiem (Philip Blackburn Remix, 2011) [7:03]
Trinity Youth Chorus and members of Trinity Choir, Trinity Wall Street/Robert Ridgell (Trinity Requiem)
Musica Sacra/Richard Westenburg (Seven Sounds Unseen)
The Esoterics/Eric Banks (Notturno in Weiss)
rec. November 2010 (Trinity Requiem), otherwise dates and locations not given.
INNOVA 244 [68:08]

Experience Classicsonline



We’ve come across the name Robert Moran before, with the generally appreciated Innova releases ‘Mantra’, ‘Open Veins’ and ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, though his contribution to a Decca ‘World of Minimalism’ compilation seems to have made less of an impression (see review). Moran is a composer of such wide experience that it would seem likely he can turn his hand to anything, and his response to the commission to write the Trinity Requiem for a youth choir as part of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City was to dedicate the work to “children who had lost their entire families through plagues, wars, endless catastrophes, vicious governments etc.” This aspect of the work provides an extra layer of meaning to a piece which is already very moving in its directness of expression and bold simplicity.

A first impression of the Trinity Requiem is of a piece which sits somewhere not too distant from the famous works in this genre by Fauré and Duruflé – or even John Rutter. The use of a harp against young voices calls Benjamin Britten to mind, and the handbells in the Pie Jesu might have been flown in by John Tavener’s agent. Strangely enough though, the strengths of Moran’s piece come from somewhere other than strongly embedded traditions. In many ways, the peripherals of this recording become its essence. The Trinity Youth Chorus is a very fine sounding choir, and, though the often unison lines are not too technically demanding they hit their notes and have a genuine feel of unity. This is clearly a fine choir as well as being part of a social programme which has a significant aspect on people’s lives in terms of neighbourhood partnerships, education and performance opportunities, and is therefore an organisation beyond criticism. At the opening of the Offertory, a movement which uses the bass line of that famous Pachelbel Canon, the sound of sirens can be heard in the street outside – a powerful serendipitous coincidence which might have been written into the score, and if Steve Reich had anything to do with it no doubt would have been. As the composer points out, this serves as a striking reminder that the twin towers used to stand just behind Trinity. No-one who is old enough to remember will hear those sounds and not think of that day.

The work opens with a striking open-fifth chord from the organ, taken up by the four cellos which form a major part of the instrumental accompaniment. Movingly expressed harmonies create that mood of celestial timelessness, and with soaring melodies above, we’re immediately sold. Either that or our stony cynical souls are sent to a place where dark and dismal critics dwell, in which case you have to ask yourself, where is your humanity?

The Kyrie is a spare, mysterious exploration of few notes – the chimes of the harp tolling like a distant clock. Arvo Pärt fans will like this sense of time suspended. This is followed with Psalm 23, which is unashamedly melodic, the gentle chugging of the organ providing some rhythmic texture as the music at times sails close something from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. The Sanctus is pleasant but for me one of the least substantial or memorable sections, where the Agnus Dei is a much finer piece, with juicy harmonies and the cellos chipping in chilling their little accompaniment to stop things becoming too soupy. The final In Paradisum resolves everything with peaceful lyricism.

Seven Sounds Unseen for 20 solo voices inhabits a similar atmosphere to the Trinity Requiem, its denser vocal textures moving through similarly accessible progressions. Moran uses fragments of texts from the many letters he received from his friend John Cage, and the work has a restraint; and the long central movement a static aura which might almost have been comparable with some of Cage’s later Number pieces, though most certainly without that composer’s sense of coincidence and freedom within tight boundaries. Moran’s work is tightly composed, making the most of limited means, and creating a serene and expressive carpet of pleasant and deceptively simple-sounding sounds.

Notturno in Weiss is another grand choral statement, this time with two harps to add some Mahlerian sparkle to the vocals. The music is a setting of a fairly grim poem by Christian Morgenstern, given in German and translated into English in the booklet, and Moran’s slowly shifting chords and textures suit the words very nicely, In totenstiller Nacht – a reflection on death which is a good choice to go with the Trinity Requiem. The rather unnecessary final track, Requiem for a Requiem is an audio collage of Robert Moran’s recorded works, some sourced from CDs other than this one, providing some incongruous blasts of brass and clattery percussion which just don’t fit with the overall effect of this disc. Next time, try creating something really new from the material please – not something which just sounds cobbled together. This just turns Moran’s music into an ungrateful heap of tailor’s remnants. Let me know, I’ll do you something amazing for free.

There are some points about this recording which had me raise an eyebrow or two. The cavernous resonance at the point with detached notes 8 minutes or so into the central movement of Seven Sounds Unseen is very artificial sounding, squeezing into mono rather than spreading outwards. There are some strange artefacts in the Trinity Requiem which made me wonder whether the music was being electronically manipulated – odd phasing effects around 2:40 into the Kyrie for instance, and the whole thing is a bit on the woolly side. It’s still a lovely piece though, and I can imagine it being widely taken up for performances all over the place.

This is a CD which contains some hauntingly beautiful music, and plenty of poignant associations in movingly expressive performances. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Dominy Clements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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