Mack Wilberg, associate director of the
Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is a musical
treasure. In addition to the many works he has
created for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and
Orchestra at Temple Square, his music has
been performed and recorded by choral
groups throughout the world. His
arrangements and compositions have inspired
audiences and touched hearts. Now, many of
his most important original works have been
recorded on a single album. Requiem
spotlights six Mack Wilberg compositions,
including Requiem, which features solos by
noted Welsh opera star Bryn Terfel and famed
American mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.
1. Requiem: Requiem Aeternam
2. Requiem: Kyrie
3. Requiem: I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes
4. Requiem: How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place
5. Requiem: O Nata Lux
6. Requiem: The Lord Is My Shepherd
7. Requiem: I Am the Resurrection and the Life - Requiem Aeternam
8. Ubi Caritas Et Amor
9. Lord, When the Sense of Thy Sweet Grace Light Of Life
11. Jesu, the Very Thought Is Sweet
12. Let Peace Then Still the Strife
Those who are deeply familiar with the Mormon choral traditions in composition, arrangement, and/or performance will be somewhat less surprised than other listeners at the beauty of Mack Wilberg's oecumenical Requiem (to parts of the Romish Catholic text in Latin of the Missa pro defunctis mixed with other texts in English). Indeed, Mormon choral music and hymnody have flourished in both of the major Mormon groups, i.e. in the L.D.S. as well as in the (lesser-known, numerically less numerous) R.L.D.S./Community of Christ denominations (or, as many rather acerbically designate (whether justifiably or merely contentiously) the former as a pagan cult and the latter as a slightly off-kilter Christian sect). The texts which Mack Wilberg sets to music on this CD of his choral music include only two, both by David Warner (a frequent collaborator with Wilberg as author of words for his music), that, presumably, are by any specifically Mormon author.
The mostly gently flowing, memorably melodious style (often modally tinged as well as filled with imaginative chromatic harmonies) of Wilberg's Requiem brings to mind choral music of several composers of the Anglo-American choral tradition; coming to mind most readily for comparisions are, in their choral works, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, Herbert Howells, John Rutter, Randall Thompson, perhaps at times Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten, and (sadly neglected) William ("Bill") Schneeweiss. Wilberg's music, for all that, sounds fresh and genuinely inspired, often rapturously ethereal. In this work, it is only those sections featuring the male solo voice that seem to sag to merely tiresome declamation and melodic skimpiness, rather as Britten succombs to the same weaknesses in his often dreary solo vocal writing. (On the other hand, this difference, perhaps as intended, does lend variety of mood and pacing to the music of this religious work.) This is a pity, given that the male vocal soloist is the quite fine baritone Bryn Terfel; even in Wilberg's setting of the famous 23rd Psalm ("The Lord Is My Shepherd", set to the pre-K.J.V. translation of this text as found in the pre-A.V./pre-K.J.V. Tudor English Bible translation by Bp. Miles Coverdale and more notably in Anglicanism's traditional Book of Common Prayer, which incorporates Coverdale's Psalter), which Wilberg includes as a movement in his Requiem, has melodically barren music, which Bryn Terfel sings better than it deserves. However, such lapses are relatively brief. On the other hand, the solo female vocal movements are very lovely, indeed, and the music soars lyrically, as beloved mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade so memorably sings it on this presumably premiere recording.
Of course, the Mormon (L.D.S.) Tabernacle Choir is no fluke among Utah choirs and choruses; those who know Utah's university vocal ensembles, the Mormon Youth Chorus, and many other superb L.D.S. vocal aggregations will know just how high the choral standard throughout Utah is. However, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir deserves its pre-eminent popularity and, among the discerning, well-earned reputation for genuine excellence; the Salt Lake City Tabernacle's famous resident choir here sings with its marvellous combination of natural (almost non-"classical"), unforced vocal tone quality matched with admirable choral diction, sure intonation and unanimity. Since leaving the stable of Columbia/C.B.S./Sony Records' artists, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in its recordings for other labels, among them Bonneville, Laserlight, and its own self-named label, has freed itself of Columbia's rather excessively bloated instrumental backing arrangements and unimaginative choice of repertoire. There are many recordings to this fine choir's post-Columbia days' credit, and this one is as recommendable as any for those who have missed out on them (as well, of course, for collectors who, indeed, long have had some or all of them in their collections!).
Wilberg's other works on this CD, devoted entirely to his music, are all enjoyable, with no diminution of inspiration from one of them to another, as there is briefly at times among the Requiem's various movements. My personal favourite is the mediaevally flavoured "Ubi caritas et amor", too sublimely lovely to be so austere as that description might imply. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square perform them all admirably.
It might be advisable to be sure that the buyer take the precaution of purchasing this CD, if not from Amazon, where he would be able to take it back for exchange later, if necessary. The copy used for this review had disagreeably extraneous sounds at two points, once in track 1 and again in track 3; furthermore, on one of the CD players the discs within these same passages would repeat without going forward, but on the other CD machine there was no interruption of the music's flow despite that intrusion of unwanted noise. The sound quality, as such, captured at the recording venue (Salt Lake City's Tabernacle), is pleasingly vivid and sonorous.
Recommended to, among others, music lovers eager for discovery of worthy new choral repertory and, naturally, to the many collectors who make a point of seeking out various settings and concepts of the funeral music known, however loosely, as Requiem.
I saw this amazing concert performed Live at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, this spring. It brought tears to my eyes and took me out of this world and into higher realms. It is beautful beyond words. Mack Wilberg is a composer who will be remembered and loved for centuries to come.
Simply magnificent. I've been familiar with Wilberg's choral arrangements for some years now, but these original compositions are a revelation! The Requiem blows other contemporary Requiems (Rutter, Lloyd Weber, Tavener, Jenkins) out of the water -- it is heartfelt, genuine, soothing, and impeccably crafted. The other shorter hymns on the CD are also masterpieces, each one of them. The soloists (Bryn Terfel and Frederica von Stade) sing gloriously. The Orchestra plays divinely. And the Tabernacle Choir has never sounded so fresh, focused, and disciplined as it does on this CD.
Profoundly moving, spiritual, and beautiful. My enjoyment of this collection of music increases each time I listen to it. Truly and inspired work!
I had the oportunity to see the Debut performance of this work and was very moved. I enjoyed new elements infused with a familiar yet contempory creation of the Requiem tradition. I haven't yet listened to the CD and hope some minor performance problems have been ironed out in the recording. Yet my opinion of the work is that it is transcending, inspiring and a beautiful blending of instrument and voice creating a unique and touching work of music.
I watched the first concert where this was performed (Mormon Tabernacle, April 26, 2007). The music was phenominal. Mack Wilberg is at his finest with this music, which is all entirely written by Wilberg. I highly recommend this CD.