ARNOLD ROSNER (1945-2013): Requiem, Op. 59.
Catalogue Number: 09W054
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0545
Description: This is absolutely extraordinary. After the massive, apocalyptic 6th Symphony that we offered in 2019 (01U008), we should perhaps have been prepared for this - but Rosner's Requiem transcends and dwarfs even that monumental work. When his long, long overdue recognition finally reaches its full fruition, this is likely to be considered his greatest and most important piece, and one of the pinnacles of the fertile "concert requiem" genre. A good part of this is certainly due to his obstinate, stubborn, uncompromising individuality and refusal to conform to - anything, really. And his absolute determination that his music be emotionally impactful above all, never obscured by its extreme originality or complexity. His unique idiom, compounded of Renaissance polyphony, Mediæval organum, and turn of the (20th) century late Romantic tonality freed from the rigour of classical key relationships through the intercession of modality and early music, is capable of enormous expressive range, and never more so than in this work. Being Rosner, this is not a conventional Requiem espousing one particular view of death and the hereafter, but a multifaceted, polyglot examination of humankind’s greatest mystery and fear from every angle, drawing on many cultures and histories, and the music associated with them, in one of the grandest - and in some ways darkest and least resolved - canvases ever devoted to the subject. The genesis of the work is unusual. Rosner greatly admired the films of Ingmar Bergman, especially "The Seventh Seal". He aspired to write an opera based on the film, but permission was not forthcoming so he re-used the music he had already written for this work, which begins with an "Overture", a mighty exposition of the ideas behind the Requiem. An ominous opening leads to the establishment of a monumental pylonic chord, and celestial expanses of utter calm. A militaristic ostinato crashes onto the scene, challenged immediately by another warlike ostinato rhythm. The chorus enters serenely with the text from the book of Revelation describing the opening of the seventh seal. Male voices intone "Dies irae, Dies illa" from the Requiem sequence in the style of mediaeval organum, and "seven trumpets" ring out before the text from Revelation is resumed, swelling to an angelic choir. An orchestral earthquake rends the earth, and the movement ends with the apocalyptic trumpets. All this in the first eleven minutes of the piece, providing a foretaste of what to expect in the following hour. The second movement sets a bleak, Expressionistic poem by Gottfried Bern, reflecting on the brevity of life and the inevitability of the "Dunkel, ungeheuer"('the immense darkness’) that follows. Rosner drives the point home with an accompaniment of percussion, spare and desolate, but finally despairing and overwhelming. The idiom of the galloping orchestral scherzo that follows is that of the Vaughan Williams of the 4th Symphony. The music is relentlessly, exhaustingly driven throughout. The contrast with the following movement could not be greater; the poem by François Villon (c. 1431–c. 1463) with the refrain: ‘But where are the snows of yesteryear?’, a commentary on the impermanence of life and the inexorability of time set as a tender ballade, a neo-romantic take on the music of the Middle Ages. The remarkable, terrifying fifth movement, "Sutra" is to this Requiem what the Dies irae is to traditional settings. A pounding rhythmic chant on one note of a Buddhist sutra is increasingly overlain by modal romantic counterpoint in the orchestra, crescendoing toward an apocalyptic climax, underpinned by the ostinato from the first movement, in which the female voices of the choir join in with text from the Bardo Thodol. When the volume reaches an unbearable level the music erupts and disintegrates, to be replaced by a grisly account of the torment awaiting the wicked in the afterlife, also from the Book of the Dead, sung by the baritone soloist. The battering ostinato juggernaut returns to hurl the movement to its shattering conclusion. A beautiful a cappella setting, in the style of a sixteenth-century madrigal, of part of Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d", expressing the poet's serene acceptance of death, forms the next movement, the only comforting part of the work. The composer’s love of early music continues in the seventh movement, a setting of the text "Lasciate ogni speranze, voi ch’entrate" (Abandon all hope, ye who enter here)", from Dante’s Inferno, in the style of Mediæval organum. "Kaddish" presents the Jewish liturgical prayer as a passionate neo-romantic aria, magnificent in its universal exaltation of God and plea for consolation. The Libera me that precedes the burial of the dead in the Roman Rite is the work's final, and most terrifying climax. The movement is a huge, cumulative passacaglia, unleashing the full forces of orchestra and chorus in eighteen titanic variations and a final tableau of the Day of Judgement. The shocked silence that follows the cataclysm leads without pause into the mysterious orchestral epilogue "und wieder Dunkel, ungeheuer" (‘and again the immense darkness’), hushed, rapt, uncertain, ambiguous and unresolved. Texts and translations included. Kelley Hollis (soprano), Feargal Mostyn-Williams (countertenor), Thomas Elwyn (tenor), Gareth Brynmor John (baritone), Crouch End Festival Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Nick Palmer.