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Requiem and Other Choral Works and Called to Serve: Performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 2008


This recording of Mack Wilberg's Requiem, first performed in 2007 to celebrate the re-opening of the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, features world-renowned mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and baritone Bryn Terfel as soloists. It is also one of the lightest requiems I've heard, which is probably why it has garnered comparisons to Gabriel Faure's Requiem. Any composer writing a requiem must confront head-on the religious history that permeates Western choral music; Wilberg, music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, one of the best-loved choruses in the United States, engages this tradition in thoughtful and interesting ways. He incorporates musical features of medieval and Renaissance music into sections of the work. Furthermore, Wilberg mixes the Latin and Greek texts of the original Catholic liturgy with English verses from the Old and New Testaments. While the soloists, skillfully presenting long Biblical passages in English, are inarguably fantastic, my favorite sections were the choral parts. The chorus-only segments carry the full weight of tradition, with sustained two-part harmonies and lush strings sparingly punctuated by pairs of woodwinds coming close to the mesmerizing sway of Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Here a perfect balance between the ancient and contemporary is achieved. Wilberg's Requiem is a work of religious art that transcends sectarian boundaries—and can also be enjoyed by listeners with purely secular interests. As for the "other choral works" included on the CD, "Ubi caritas et amor" is the easily my favorite. Starting off Gregorian chant-like, the a capella men's voices move from unison to end on a decidedly 21st-century cadence. Here again, Wilberg strikes a fine balance between the traditional and the modern.

What about the second CD released by Wilberg and the MTC in 2008? No, Called to Serve is not a paean to the military draft. This collection of Wilberg's arrangements of traditional LDS and other Christian hymns celebrates for chorus and orchestra "the instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ to take his gospel message to the peoples of all the earth." Wilberg is not shy in his orchestration, generously throwing harp arpeggios into quiet songs like "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" and regal trumpet lines into the stern yet optimistic "How Firm a Foundation." If you like to sing along with inspirational lyrics such as "I'm trying to be like Jesus" and "I am a child of God," then this is the perfect addition to your CD collection.