John Harbison’s deeply felt, near hour-long Requiem was finished in 2002 after a long gestation period beginning almost two decades earlier, when the composer had spontaneously composed what would eventually become the opening Introit after the death of a friend.
Ten years later the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart invited Harbison to contribute a movement to a collective Requiem of Reconciliation commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. He finished his Requiem in 2002 after the Boston Symphony commissioned him a week before the 9/11 attacks. Not surprisingly, given the stretch of time over which it was composed and the nature of the triggering events, Harbison’s Requiem is less about personal intimacy and grief and more about public eloquence and mourning.
In Harbison’s scheme the soloists play their usual major roles but the ceremonial nature of the work results in the orchestra becoming a member of the congregation along with the chorus itself. The Requiem winds down reflectively, with four solo strings adding poignancy to a ‘Lux aeterna’ haunted by discord and the sadness of its light; the concluding ‘In paradisum’ has an uneasy spiritual core that is not entirely resolved.
Among the soloists, Jessica Rivera and Kelly Markgraf stand out, with Nicholas Phan contributing moments of searing intensity. The choral and orchestral forces are magnificent throughout and Giancarlo Guerrero keeps them moving and fully committed.
The recording, made during performances in May 2017 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center, has the size and space it needs to capture the colours and textures of Harbison’s rich orchestration and the impact of his powerful vision.