Among the many important works inspired by the 9/11 disaster, Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem – recently released on Innova – is one of the most gripping. It’s a Christian mass performed by the Trinity Youth Chorus, augmented in the lower registers by members of the Trinity Choir, conducted by Robert Ridgell. Which is a choice of performers as fitting as it is musically successful; New York’s Trinity Church was the house of worship closest to Ground Zero, its organ destroyed by the avalanche of soot and debris from a couple of blocks away. Here the choir performs with Alexander Hermann at the organ, Jennifer Hoult on harp, and a cello section of Aminda Asher, Veronica Parrales, Sara Wolfe, and Miho Zaitsu. Most of this is very quiet as befits an atmosphere where grief has depleted most all energy, although not all the music is dark: Moran allows some hope for a possible future, particularly on the warm if plaintive theme in the final movement, In Paradisum. The melodies move slowly, gently, often very poignantly: the arrangements themselves change much more than the actual tunes, in the style of Rennaisance choral music but with more of a willingness to embrace the unresolved, a style perfectly capsulized in the Introit, which begins with the suite’s one big organ swell and ends unsettled and somewhat menacing. Somewhat similarly, the spacious, echoey Kyrie gingerly moves away from and then back to a central tone. A calming hymn, a gentle processional that gives way to a baroque waltz (with vivid echoes of the Pachelbel Canon), a distant, somewhat minimalist funeral march and eventually a turn into quiet, otherworldly, mutedly soaring upper-register ambience mark the passage from stunned disbelief to sheer anguish to a slow determination to begin anew. To call it methodical wouldn’t be accurate – coping with death is never like that – but it’s a potently perceptive portrayal of how many of those who survived the disaster, or lost loved ones in it, would respond. When approached to write this, Moran was initially dismayed by the idea of writing a requiem sung mostly by children, but it’s a good thing he didn’t back away from it. This achievement makes a powerful, considerably quieter counterpart to Melora Creager’s angry, betrayed 9/11 suite, and Robert Sirota’s haunting, nightmarish Triptych.
There are three other works on this album, and they make good segues. Seven Sounds Unseen, a John Cage homage performed by choral ensemble Musica Sacra, is considerably more lively but similarly full of intriguingly subtle tonal and timbral shifts, particularly the low, solitary drone that emerges toward the end of the first movement to counterbalance the highs as they reach for a hypnotically celebratory feel. The second is a long, hypnotic round with a surprise interruption, the third a mutedly triumphant outro.
Notturno in Weiss, a subtly apprehensive, slow fugue between the voices of The Esoterics and harpists Alexis Odell and Melissa Walsh is a setting of a Christian Morgenstern poem which contrasts the whiteness of a lily and a tombstone, each keeping its own vigil. The final track is titled Requiem for a Requiem, a seamless Moran “greatest hits” medley assembled by soundsculptor Phillip Blackburn including an excerpt from a more vigorous work as well as long passages that play up the harp versus the choir’s atmospherics.
As we usually do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #462:
Jazz on a Summer’s Day
This is a case where you really should get the movie: the visuals of this 1960 documentary of the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival are fascinating and often hilarious. It’s best known for Anita O’Day, stoned out of her mind, wailing her way through Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two with a great horn player’s imagination and virtuosity. That’s just the juiciest moment; there’s also a young, ducktailed Chuck Berry doing the splits on Sweet Little Sixteen; Dinah Washington making All of Me sound fresh and fun; Gerry Mulligan and his band; and cameos by George Shearing, Thelonious Monk, Big Maybelle, Chico Hamilton, a lot of Louis Armstrong and a real lot of Mahalia Jackson at her peak doing spirituals and a final stirring benediction. Some of you may scoff at how mainstream this is…until you hear what this crew does with a lot of standard fare. The random torrent here is for the movie rather than the stand-alone soundtrack.
Monday night at the popular upper westside Music Mondays series, one of the organizers remarked that sometimes chamber music ensembles from outside this country aren’t as well-known here as they deserve to be. The reverse is also true – and that’s too bad. This particular series devotes itself to community concerts by world-class performers, and Trio Con Brio Copenhagen definitely delivered. There’s an easy explanation for much of this group’s warm chemistry and singleminded approach to the music: violinist Soo-Jin Hong and cellist Soo-kyung Hong are sisters. Rounding out the group, Danish pianist Jens Elvekjaer played with an uncluttered fluidity, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes chillingly dark.
The three pieces on the bill were arranged generously so that each group member could shine. They opened with Haydn’s “Gypsy” Trio in G Major. It’s a ceaselessly pleasant, chipper work, one of Haydn’s literally hundreds like it: a couple of waltz themes, variations and call-and-response and a rondo at the end that gave Elvekjaer a chance to air out his chops with a brief but memorable series of powerhouse, articulated runs. Their next piece, Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor was transcendent, moodwise completely the opposite of the breeziness that preceded it. Elkvekjaer launched into its spacious, murkily minimalism with a visceral sense of dread, Frankenstein walking on eggshells. An apprehensive, somewhat manic flurry of strings was the first of many moments for the cellist to dig in and match the piano’s ambience goosebump for goosebump. Even the more lively second movement was only a respite from the distant, quietly resounding low-register motifs that took it down and out with a white-knuckle intensity. Has this group recorded this? They ought to.
They closed with a warmly rippling take on Tschaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50, a showcase this time for the violin, which gets a few solo passages to build suspense or shift the mood in one way or another, and made the most of all of them. It’s classic Tschaikovsky: wounded angst peering out from behind the comfortable, nocturnal swells, a somewhat sad, courtly dance and a conclusion marked “lugubre.” This particular version wasn’t lugubrious, though – it was downright haunting, even though the composer almost completely sidesteps brooding minor-key Russian tones in favor of more comfortable central European colors. Music Mondays’ next concert is November 7 at 7:30 PM at Advent/Broadway Church, 2504 Broadway at 93rd St., featuring the reliably adventurous Miro Quartet.