In Pardisum: The Healing Power of Heaven
South Dakota Chorale
Jesse Eschbach, organ
Brian Schmidt, conductor
Winner: Grammy for Best Classical Producer, Blanton Alspaugh
In their debut recording, the South Dakota Chorale performs the
rarely recorded “organ version” of Duruflé’s Requiem, using the
French-influenced Bedient organ of First Congregational Church in Sioux Falls,
Brian A. Schmidt is a conductor and composer whose award-winning works have
been sung by many choirs across the country.
SUPER-AUDIO/CD hybrid! This is a Hybrid Multi-channel SACD, which plays on
any CD player. However, when played on an SACD player, the listener will hear
the exceptional audio resolution that only a DSD recording can provide.
Giuseppe Sarti: Nïñe sílï ñebésnïya (Now the Powers of Heaven) (5:33)
Traditional American, arr. Gary Ruschman: Run On (God’s Gonna Cut You Down)
Spiritual, arr. Normal Luboff: Deep River (3:29)
Spiritual, arr. Moses Hogan: The Battle of Jericho (2:27)
Maurice Duruflé: Requiem, op. 9
It’s such a pleasure to discover a truly magnificent new choir, and the South Dakota Chorale definitely falls into that category. Based in Sioux Falls, it was founded in 2009 by director Brian A. Schmidt to offer “local professional singers the unique opportunity to make music, in the own backyard, with other great singers and instrumentalists from around the country”. If this wondrous collection (their debut recording) is any indication, we’ll be hearing much more from them.
The most substantial work (by far) is the organ-accompanied version of Maurice Duruflé’s celestial Requiem. There are only four other selections, three of them traditional gospel and spiritual arrangements. The opening work is ‘Now the Powers of Heaven’, an interesting and challenging piece in the Russian Orthodox style by the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Sarti (1729-1902), who moved to Russia to teach composition and was captivated by the local sacred traditions. This most enjoyable piece remains mostly in the Orthodox style, though there’s an Italianate touch or two. The three traditional arrangements begin with Gary Ruschmann’s rousing, gospel-tinged treatment of the well-known folksong, ‘Run on’ (God’s Gonna Cut you Down). Soft and lusciously sweet contrast comes with Norman Luboff’s moving arrangement of ‘Deep River’. These two pieces are distinguished by arresting solo passages that show off Tom McNichols’s deep and rich bass voice (together with fellow bass Trevor Neal in the first). The presence of these magnificent voices (among others, I’m sure) make for the choir’s characteristic (though subtle) low foundational “rumble” –a key component of their sound. The final short piece is “spiritual king” Moses Hogan’s thrilling arrangement of ‘The Battle of Jericho’. Soprano Amber Wellborn’s well controlled, workless high “shriek” towards the end came as a sudden, shiver-me-timbers shock. Marvelous stuff!
I then spent the next 40 minutes in choral heaven, wallowing joyfully (and dreamily) in Durufle’s ethereal chant-based Requiem, one of my all-time favorite settings in the genre (I’ve sung it several times). The choir brings its entire range of sonic qualities to bear here, ranging from transparently pure and tender straight tones to robust and full-throated choral glory. The soloists (mezzo Elizabeth Johnson Knight and baritone Brandon Hendrickson) are superb. Organist Jesse Eschbach offers just the right supporting touch from his French-influenced Bedient instrument. The resplendent, supremely detailed Super-audio sound helps to make it particularly memorable. You’d never hear a performance like this from, say, your typical English or Scandinavian choir. I do believe I’ve found a new favorite performance of this ravishing music.
---American Record Guide
The Italian opera composer, Giuseppe Sarti (1729-1802), moved to
Russia to teach composition, but became influenced by the musical traditions of
Russian Orthodox Church. In Nïñe sílï ñebésnïya (“Now the Powers of Heaven”), Sarti combines the sweetness of
older compositional techniques (stile antico) with virtuosic vocal fireworks
that vividly paint the power of heaven.
Now the Powers of
Heaven serve invisibly with us;
lo, the King of Glory enters.
Lo, the mystical sacrifice is upborne, fulfilled.
Let us draw near in faith and love
and become communicants of life eternal.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
—from the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts
Run on (“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”) is a traditional American folk song that speaks of the
temptations and pitfalls of life, and the threat of God’s judgment. It has been
arranged to fit many popular music genres, and sung by artists like Johnny
Cash, Odetta, Elvis Presley, the Blind Boys or Alabama. It is arranged here for
choir by Gary Ruschman (b. 1973).
American spirituals often speak to goal of reaching heaven and
experiencing its healing powers. Deep River in this classic arrangement by Norman Luboff (1917-1987)
expresses the desire for deliverance from the trials of this life and the
ultimate healing of the life to come, symbolized by crossing the river Jordan.
The Battle of Jericho recounts
one of the Bible’s great stories of the power of heaven focused through the
actions of the faithful Joshua. Moses Hogan’s (1957-2003) dynamic arrangement
of this familiar song shifts into emotional overdrive to reveal the unrelenting
energy of the battle scene that day.
Maurice Duruflê (1902-1986) sang in the Rouen Cathedral Choir as a child and
later studied organ with Charles Tournemire, Cesar Franck’s successor at St-
Clotilde in Paris. In 1920 he entered the Paris Conservatory, eventually
winning first prizes in organ, harmony, piano accompaniment and composition. In
1929, he became titular organist of St- tienne-du-Mont in Paris, where he
stayed the rest of his life.
Duruflé’s Requiem Opus 9 is one
of the great musical masterpieces of the 20th century, but it is unusual in
several ways. There are three versions of the work, each with a different
nstrumental accompaniment. One version is for organ alone (heard on this
recording), another for organ and string orchestra with optional trumpets, harp
and timpani, and one or organ and full orchestra. Of these, the version with
organ accompaniment alone is the least-often recorded, but demonstrates
Durufle’s complete mastery of orchestration at the organ. The 2008 organ by
Gene Bedient at Sioux Falls First Congregational Church has many French
Romantic colors, employed to great effect in this performance.
Durufle’s recommendations for soloists
are also unusual. The use of soloists is sparse, and there are indications in
the score that the Baritone “solo” could be sung by the choir. The combination
of instrumental accompaniments and soloist possibilities has led to a wide
variety of performances of this work. Musically, Duruflé set ancient chant
melodies into modern harmonies, particularly the Gregorian chants from “Mass
for the Dead”, thus achieving a musical work that weaves together centuries of
musical traditions. The Requiem’s most powerful attribute being the enveloping
sonorities, which encompass the entire spectrum of human emotion and
experience. From thundering depictions of the Day of Judgment to beautiful
pianissimo prayers for light and salvation, the powerful experience of this
music has brought many a sense of consolation, healing, peace, and a hope that
“angels will lead us into paradise”—as the Requiem’s last musical movement
states with powerful and Heavenly reassurance.