By Ted AYALA
An enthusiastic audience hailed the world premiere of Ian Krouse’s “Armenian Requiem” last Wednesday night, taking place at a UCLA Royce Hall that was well-nigh packed to the rafters.
The 15-movement work is massive not only in its length, which weighs in around the 90-minute mark, but also because of the forces it employs: full symphony orchestra with an extended percussion section, mixed choir, children’s choir, and a quartet of singers.
Krouse’s idées fixes in his “Armenian Requiem” is death; the howling rage of a people maligned and left without recourse to justice; regeneration, and finally hope.
Despite the work’s title, Krouse’s work owes more to works like Britten’s “War Requeim” and Shostakovich’s “Thirteenth” and “Fourteenth Symphonies”: Vocal symphonic works that are sustained around a group of texts that revolve around a particular theme or writer. But the influence of the Requiem nonetheless remains; and as the work progresses, the ear begins to sense the faint outlines of the Catholic Requiem.
Shades of the “Dies Irae” are palpable in the work’s fifth movement, based on texts by Father Ghevond Alishan. The trumpets of Judgment Day (backed up by three sets of dueling timpani that bring to mind Nielsen) are placed off stage, unleashing a terrifying maelstrom over the audience.
Interspersed throughout the “Armenian Requiem” in alternating movements is one of Krouse’s most inspired touches: The use of Armenian hymns as “interludes,” recalling Bach’s similar treatment of Lutheran chorales in his Passions.
Krouse’s “Armenian Requiem,” which is cast in a very traditional idiom, is heartfelt, bold, richly expressive, but also makes virtuosic demands of its performers. He was fortunate to have at his disposal a group of performers like the UCLA Philharmonia and its conductor Neal Stulberg. Theirs is a formidable instrument, capable of not only stop-on-a-dime corporate finesse, but also solo playing of profound character. Every technical hurdle that the score dropped in their path they leaped over with aplomb.
They were matched consummately by the Lark Mastersingers and the Tziatzan Treble Choir, both under Vatsche Barsoumian’s direction. Their singing was by turns impassioned and noble. At times their expressive force was so potent as to be nearly overwhelming.