Traditionally speaking (though when are we ever all that traditional on Q2 Music?), Requiems are massive works, propelling a soul into the afterlife and at times as overpowering as cathedral incense. Look at Verdi’s Dies Irae, Mozart’s Confutatis or Brahms’s Seling sind die Toten.
But Gregory Spears’s Requiem, the composer’s first album now out on New Amsterdam Records, starts off so subtly, so preciously, you think at first you’ve left the volume on mute. Combining the madrigal tradition of Victoria and antiphonies of Tallis and Sheppard with the limning sonic textures of John Luther Adams and Gavin Bryars, Spears’s Requiem tackles the more probing and complex intimacies of death.
Latin masses make a guest appearance in the form of a haunting Agnus Dei and a triptych of Kyrie, Libera me and Lux aeterna that weaves echoes and overtones to create a singing tone similar to the clanging of bells. However, Spears also works with 19th-century Breton texts and the poetry of 16th-century bard Jean-Antoine de Baïf, full of natural references that give the composer a great excuse to work in bird-like vocal lines. It’s not about the liturgical rite, but of the celebration (dour though it may sound) of life.
Subtle yes, but the overall effect is just as overwhelming with lush visuals straight out of the Dutch and Flemish masters. It beams with Vermeer-ian white and gold lights, teeming with Breughel’s minutest details and occasionally diving into Rembrandt’s layered blacks. Perhaps it's not the jolliest music you’ll hear this season, but it’s some of the most engrossing.