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A Requiem by Philippe Treuille

It is not every day that one gets to attend the premiere of a requiem.  It is not usual for a requiem to be written by a composer who has not reached his thirtieth birthday.  Yet the subject is universal:  the old have no lock on requiem writing.   One of the distinguishing features of Treuille’s Requiem is the depth of scholarship that went into its making.  First, the composer has chosen the Latin texts. Second, he has researched those texts to find sources in ancient Jewish rites with corollary usages in Muslim texts, thus finding a universality, specifically in the Sanctus.   No doubt being aware of the formidable requiems that preceded him, Treuille nevertheless undertook the daunting task of assembling the liturgical material and then setting that material to music for chorus, soloists and small orchestra.   The first public performance took place at the Church of the Incarnation on Madison Avenue last Friday, before a most respectable audience that was not in the habit of attending requiem premieres yet acted as if this was not quite so extraordinary an event as it in fact was. The strong melodic line that went through several transformations as variations served the singers well, but it was not so successful in the orchestration.  I thought there was too much brass that too often obscured the voices. And the timpani, good for emphasis, were overused, making it tough for the voices to reach the audience in the cathedral-sized space.  But when the voices did reach us, the effect was lightness and grace.  The overall effect was one of power, the harnessing of music on a massive scale making profound words real and moving.  The dead are in good hands.    The texts move through nine sections, starting with a short Introit, “hesitant steps toward the unknowable.” Each of the three phrases of the Kyrie Eleison is repeated three times by choir, soloists and then choir—making it 3 x 3 x 3, or 27 repetitions. Section IV, Dies Irae, is a long liturgical poem from the thirteenth century, “with probable roots from centuries earlier,” says the helpful and well written program.  In the Agnus Dei, the voices played off a harp, giving the words a magical touch.  The harp continued its magic in the Pie Jesu. We end in Paradise with a prayer for eternal rest. With choirs and soloists and an orchestra leading the way, it seems not a bad place to end up.   —SCK    Posted: 2/4/2015