01 November 2012
At the request of conductor Paul Hillier, Danish composer Bent Sørensen (b. 1958) created this “new” Requiem by juxtaposing individual movements of Ockeghem’s Missa Pro Defunctis with requiem movements of Sørensen’s own, composed over a twenty-year period. It’s fairly obvious, of course, which movement is by which composer, but the styles overlap in both their complex polyphonic textures and their meditative natures. In addition, Sørensen has interpolated the occasional passage of Gregorian plainchant, as an example of the raw material that served as the springboard of inspiration both for himself and for his illustrious fifteenth-century predecessor. These sections knit together further the ancient and the modern.
Some of Sørensen’s denser harmonic progressions are mind-bending; the clusters seem to melt into one another, often with microtonal inflections. The “Benedictus,” in particular, lingers in the mind as extraordinary. Another Sørensen movement, the concluding “In Paradisum,” truly sounds like music from another world, in which the tonal system has been refracted through a four-dimensional lens. Sørensen seems to summon Gyorgy Ligeti’s choral music as a spiritual antecedent, but Sørensen’s comes off as even more precise and more carefully calibrated in its dissonances.
Juxtaposing Ockeghem with Sørensen makes the listener hear each of them differently, to their mutual benefit. Ockeghem’s lush, expressive, Franco–Flemish polyphony sounds all the more vibrant when heard holding its own alongside that of a modernist, and Sørensen emerges as having assimilated centuries of Western choral music on the way toward fashioning his own distinct contemporary style. Ancient or modern, it all sounds luscious, especially in these impeccable performances by the amazingly accurate and sumptuously blended singers of Ars Nova Copenhagen, expertly conducted by Hillier. Highly recommended.