Saturday 21 November 2015

There are some strikingly wonderful moments in Arthur Gottschalk’s Requiem for the Living recently released by Navona Records

Composer, Arthur Gottschalk has had a varied career in the music world. He was born in California but raised in the North Eastern United States. He attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as a student in the Honors College and in Pre-Med. After two years he switched to music, studying with William Bolcom, Ross Lee Finney, and Leslie Bassett, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition, a Master of Arts degree in Music Composition and English Literature and his Doctorate in Music Composition.

He is currently a Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music where he chaired the department until 2010. In 1986 he co-founded Modern Music Ventures Inc a company which held a recording studio complex, a record production division, four publishing firms, and an artist management division, and for whom he produced records for PolyGram and Capitol.

In 1998 Gottschalk abandoned these pursuits, in order that he might devote himself more fully to music composition. Gottschalk's teaching specialties include music business and law, film music, music theory, music composition, and counterpoint. As a film and television composer he numbers six feature films, twelve television scores, and numerous industrial films and commercials among his credits.

He is a recipient of the Charles Ives Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, annual ASCAP Awards since 1980, and has been a Composer-in-Residence at the Columbia/Princeton Electronic Music Center and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. He has recently been honoured with the First Prize of the Concorso Internazionale di Composizione Originale of Corciano, Italy for his Concerto for Violin and Symphonic Winds, a First Prize from the Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Competition, and a First Prize from the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra. He was recently awarded a prestigious Bogliasco Fellowship for continued work and study in Italy.

Having written nearly two hundred works, his music is performed regularly in Europe, Asia, and Australia and has been recorded by many record companies. His book, Functional Hearing, is published by Scarecrow Press, a division of Rowman & Littlefield, and will soon be released in its second edition.

The latest recording, from Navona Records features his Requiem for the Living performed here by the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra and St. Petersburg Chamber Choir  conducted by Vladimir Lande with Lauren Snouffer (soprano), Alberto Mizrahi (tenor) , Daniel Mutlu (tenor) , Andrea Jaber (alto) and Timothy Jones (bass)


Phillip Kloeckner tells us in his very useful booklet notes that Arthur Gottschalk’s Requiem for the Living uses the traditional Latin text from the Mass of the Dead (Missa pro defunctis) combined with a wide variety of texts and, indeed, musical styles in order to illustrate the variety and texture of our common diversity. It is intended to be a commentary on life whilst re-evaluating the many facets of death and the afterlife.

The first movement includes the traditional Hebrew prayer for the dead (Yizkor), the second movement a verse from the Qur’an, the third the wisdom of Buddha, the fourth Duke Ellington’s conviction about the nature of the Divine, the fifth words by George Eliot, the sixth Muhammad’s prayer for light and the seventh movement two American folk idiom, Bluegrass Gospel and Blues Spiritual.

In eight movements it opens with Introit - Yizkor – Kyrie that leaps up in a dramatic Requiem aeternam before an impassioned plea from tenor, Alberto Mizrahi ‘God, remember the souls of our beloved…’ moving around in the manner of a Jewish cantor before the choir bring back the Requiem. The music becomes quieter as the Kyrie arrives with some finely overlaid choral voices, Gottschalk showing a very light touch with the orchestra.

Dies Irae - Night of Power - Rex tremendae brings staccato choral phrases for the ‘Dies Irae, dies illa…’ often surprisingly restrained in both the choir and orchestra, more with a sense of foreboding. Soprano, Lauren Snouffer and alto Andrea Jaber appear bringing a sense of anguish before Snouffer takes the text with ‘Those who believe in God and the final day…will not grieve’ bringing a sense of hope and light. The chorus return with increasing passion and drama and later the ancient Dies Irae plainchant appears more openly. Gottschalk finds some fine variety in the dramatic presentation of this section with a magical moment as the alto returns for the final ‘Dona eis requiem.’

There is a lighter, more buoyant Offertorium - Buddha – Canzonas that opens orchestrally with some distinctive woodwind textures. The choir enter in ‘Domine Jesu Christe…’ before soprano Lauren Snouffer enters with ‘The thought manifests as the word.’ The orchestra then lead on as the choir join with the soprano rising up on ‘And habit hardens into character.’ Later the choir bring a lovely mellifluousness in ‘Tu suspice pro animas illis…’ before a terrific coda.

The fourth movement, Sanctus - Ellington - Benedictus – Hosanna finds the chorus rising out of the lower strings in the Sanctu, a particularly fine moment. Soon the music finds a lovely forward flow, beautifully orchestrated before rising up on ‘Gloria.’ The music then adopts a vibrant jazz style for ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ with bass, Timothy Jones bringing a bluesy, fast and rhythmic ‘Every man prays in his own language…’ to which the choir respond with an equally racy ‘Benedictus’ with the orchestral delivering a real big band sound to the coda.

With George Eliot - Agnus Dei the soprano and alto join for ‘May I reach that purest heaven…’ bringing a lovely blend of voices before the choir sing the Agnus Dei. The orchestra bring dissonant and drooping orchestral phrases as the strings swirl and there is a sense of unease pervading. The music slowly builds in drama and intensity before finding a more peaceful end with female voices in ‘Dona nobis pacem’

In Lux Aeterna – Mohammad the chorus open with a beautifully conceived ‘Lux aeterna’ which has a slightly swaying motion. Bass, Timothy Jones enters to sing ‘O God, Give me, I pray Thee Light on my right hand…’ followed by soprano, Lauren Snouffer and alto Andrea Jaber, then tenor, Alberto Mizrahi as they all weave the text most effectively. The chorus return for the gentle ‘Cum santis tuis aeternum…’ but rising before ‘Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine’ and a quiet coda pointed up by harp.

There is a lovely orchestral opening to Gospel - Spiritual - Libera me that soon reveals a gentle gospel swing. The music soon picks up for a really fast orchestral gospel style ‘Libera me…’ before falling for a gentle lead into ‘Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on…’ a spiritual for choir and orchestra that works really effectively. The orchestra picks up for the choir to enter in ‘Quando coeli…’ again in a gospel style, full of energy and feeling. There is a slow, bluesy orchestral passage before the music builds in strength only to lead to a hushed coda on ‘Libera me, Domine’ – a wonderful conclusion.

Brass open in the Fanfare - In Paradisum weaving some lovely textures with the full orchestra eventually joining in a spectacularly fine culmination. The chorus enter with ‘In paradisum…’ where there is a breadth of choral and orchestral sound that brings a visionary quality of something to come before a tremendous conclusion.

The last track in an alternate version of the Introit - Yizkor – Kyrie, with timpani and orchestra then chorus bringing a dramatic Introit. Tenor, Daniel Mutlu joins for ‘God, remember the souls…’ bringing a lovely flow with the orchestra and later weaving the text in the fashion of a Jewish cantor. There is a lovely Amen before the chorus continue with ‘Requiem aeternum …’ full of fire and drama before a gentler Kyrie that leads to a more resolute conclusion.

There are some strikingly wonderful moments in this Requiem. If there are times when one finds a certain lack of coherence in this work it is surely because of our natural tendency to be wrong footed by unexpected musical styles. The orchestra and choir are excellent with the soloists bringing some effective singing in this varied work. They are well recorded.

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