Updated: Jun 14, 2020
There was an air of ritual about Requiem for the Fallen, the major music commission of the New Zealand Arts Festival.
It all took place on a raised stage in Wellington’s Cathedral of St Paul, with audience on either side, which worked well for some shorter choral items from Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, under Karen Grylls.
The ethereal textures of Purcell’s Hear My Prayer, O Lord gained poignancy with its shivery dissonances aloft in the building’s resonant acoustics.
Schnittke’s Drei Geistlicher Gesange had the singers moving from a circle formation to two opposing groups, delivering the piece’s almost primal passion with real fervour.
The New Zealand String Quartet contributed the central movement of Beethoven’s Opus 132 quartet. There was a hushed gravity to its song of thanksgiving, although the venue was not so kind to the floating scales of its andante sections.
Ross Harris and Vincent O’Sullivan’s Requiem for the Fallen was the key offering of the evening, acknowledging the centenary of World War I with a thoughtful mix of formal and personal, Latin liturgical texts blending effectively with O’Sullivan’s pithy verses.
Bringing together string quartet, choir and the taonga puoro of Horomona Horo, the innate drama of this score did not always need the sometimes distracting to-and-fro that director Jonathan Alver had imposed.
Horo’s exquisitely gauged improvisations ranged from a crystalline koauau introduction to a war-like pukaea in the Dies Irae, that evoked the horrors of hell itself, in tandem with Harris himself on thunderous bass drum.
Voices NZ and Grylls are a potent team and there was pride of ownership in their handling of Harris’ immaculately crafted score. The arching phrases of In Paradisum seemed to leap to heaven itself and, early on, tenor Lachlan Craig eloquently delivered the all-important lines, “He is one of us. His is one of our own.”