William Dart / NZ Herald
When Requiem for the Fallen debuted at the 2014 New Zealand Arts Festival, it was preceded by an eclectic selection of shorter choral and instrumental music.
On disc, by itself, this 45-minute collaboration between poet Vincent O'Sullivan and composer Ross Harris exerts an even greater power, from its opening exchanges between Rolf Gjelsten's vibrant cello and Horomona Horo's quavering koauau.
Within minutes of this elegiac karanga, Latin text mingles with O'Sullivan's words.
The fine young tenor Lachlan Craig celebrates the Great War soldier as a Kiwi Everyman who "carries the voice of the people", threading his vocals through the resonant textures of Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir. When words can say no more, the NZ String Quartet follows Horo's ghostly putorino with a poignant coda.
It's a rich and reverberant mix, immaculately balanced and paced by conductor Karen Grylls, making this score perhaps the finest of numerous local works inspired by the centenary of the 1914-18 conflict. O'Sullivan's poetry effortlessly glides from peacetime nostalgia to ominous marching, "kitted out for the dark," and Harris, in a stirring three minutes of string writing, reveals the skill and experience of a composer who has now penned seven string quartets.
All hell breaks loose in the Dies Irae with rushing strings, booming bass drum (played by the APO's Eric Renick) and Horo's wild, free-blowing pukaea; yet, in moments of comparative stillness, whispering choristers are equally chilling.
Richard Greager plays an old war-weary cobber. Setting off with the simplicity of folksong, the tenor builds up to an intensity and passion worthy of a Britten hero, as voices around him seem to float to heaven itself.
The original Wellington performance of this work, with Jonathan Alver's staging, can be viewed online. However, this superb CD, expertly recorded by Wayne Laird in Ellerslie's Michael Park School, offers an invaluable opportunity to focus on the impressive confluence of its many musical strands and cultures.
Rating: 5/5 Verdict: A superb choral tribute to Kiwi sacrifices on European battlefields