Robert Moran’s Trinity Requiem: Important and Compelling
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.
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