Requiem for the Fallen: Review

“Stunningly impressive and emotionally draining” – Brenda Harwood

Composer: Ross Harris

Poet Laureate: Vincent O’Sullivan

Taonga puoro composer: Horomona Horo

Conductor: Karen Grylls


Voices NZ Chamber Choir

New Zealand String Quartet

Town Hall, Dunedin

19 Oct 2014



Reviewed by Brenda Harwood, 20 Oct 2014


The fate of the more than 18,000 New Zealanders, who died in World War 1, is lamented in the extraordinary, powerfully moving Requiem for the Fallen.

Jointly created by leading New Zealand composer Ross Harris and taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments) specialist Horomona Horo, with words by Poet Laureate Vincent O’Sullivan, the work received its South Island premiere at Dunedin Town Hall on Sunday (October 19.

The spellbinding performance was presented by the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, the New Zealand String Quartet, Horo and tenor Richard Greager, conducted by music director Karen Grylls.

Before the performance of Requiem for the Fallen, the scene was set through a carefully selected series of beautiful, melancholy works.

The exquisite skill of the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir was showcased in three a capella works: ‘Hear My Prayer, O Lord’, by Henry Purcell, ‘O Sacrum Convivium’ (‘O Sacred Banquet’) by Olivier Messiaen, and ‘Drei Geistliche Gesange’ (‘Three Sacred Hymns’) by Alfred Schnittke. Filled with glorious, interwoven harmonies, these were a breathtaking taste of what was to come.

The New Zealand String Quartet also presented its own beautiful, expressive performance of Samuel Barber’s lovely Adagio for String Quartet.

Presaged by the haunting strains of taonga puoro and a Maori introduction by Horo, Requiem for the Fallen is an intriguing mix of elements of the classic requiem mass and O’Sullivan’s evocative descriptions of the soldiers’ experiences. The gentle ‘Agnus Dei’ (‘Lamb of God’) segment is a particularly fine example of this, leading into the startling, thunderous ‘Dies irae’ (‘Day of wrath’) with its terrible battlefield imagery.

The way in which Requiem for the Fallen weaves chorus, string quartet and taonga puoro together to tell a cohesive story of young men leaving home in high spirits to go off to war and the horror of their experiences on the front is impressive. The sheer beauty and sadness of the music and the historic images of young New Zealanders in wartime adds a poignancy that makes the work deeply emotionally affecting.

The performance of Requiem for the Fallen by the Chamber Choir of Voices New Zealand, the New Zealand String Quartet, Horomona Horo and Richard Geagar is exemplary in every respect, and more than that, is clearly heartfelt. The result is a work that is both stunningly impressive and emotionally draining.

In the midst of World War 1 centenary commemorations, Requiem for the Fallen is a devastating commentary on the ravages of war. Lest we forget.