About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network


Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Frank La Rocca: Messe des Malades – Diffusa est gratia – Requiem for the Forgotten
Chelsea Helm, Savannah Porter, Cecilia Duarte, Helen Karloski, Timothy Hodges, John Ramseyer, Michael Hawes (soloists), Laura Renz (concertmaster), Michael T.C. Hey (organ), Benedict XVI Choir & Orchestra, Richard Sparks (conductor)
Recording: Lagerquist Hall, Pacific Lutheran University, Parkland, Washington (August 15‑18, 2023) – 68’02
Cappella Records CR430 SACD – Booklet in English

Before addressing the main topic of this review, I should mention that I first came across another work, the Aue (sic) Maria, by Frank La Rocca while YouTube surfing. This version of the Hail Mary, in the Nahuati language, is part of La Rocca’s Mass for the Americas, honoring the Virgin Mary as Immaculate Conception and patroness of The United States and in her role as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Sung by a boy soprano in partnership with marimba and violin, the Aue Maria is a short but hypnotic work that stands on its own merits, independent of any specific religion or practice. If you haven’t heard it yet, be prepared for a haunting melody that darts with delightful originality among the two accompanying instruments, including one (marimba) not commonly associated with Catholic music. Everything about the song is right, including the six‑minute length and moderate tempo. In the context of this positive impression, I hoped to hear other works by La La  Rocca, and did, as a recording of his featuring Requiem for the Forgotten and Messe des Malades crossed my desk.

Both works recognize the importance and dignity of uncelebrated human lives, including the lives of the homeless and forgotten, and of those who bear terminal illness alone. La Rocca’s musical vision is both inspired and sponsored by the church but lacks the spirited originality one would hope to hear in liturgical music composed in the 21st century. While the two works are thoughtful, serene and contemplative, they are also conventional and a little depressing. The CD cover image of a body draped in a tarp on a park bench gives visual expression to the musical mood. I can’t recall hearing funereal music of any kind performed so slowly.

The Benedict XVI Choir under the direction of Richard Sparks, however, is in excellent voice in this recording, with superb featured soloists and organ, and beautiful playing by a rather dark ensemble of strings: two violas, a cello, double bass and harp. La Rocca is the author of some highly readable and instructive booklet notes in which he writes about his own experience during a medical crisis as well as losing his sister to illness and how both experiences related to the composition of the Messe des Malades. An extra touch of current events is provided by the Benedict XVI Center’s Poet-in-Residence, James Matthew Wilson. The 10th track on the album (third section of the Requiem) is La Rocca’s setting of Wilson’s Commemoration: A Hymn for Ukraine, which really does have the color and simplicity of a Ukrainian sacred song. This is a heartfelt hymn that can easily be performed independent of the Requiem, and the larger work, in turn, is not impoverished by its absence.

The Requiem and the Messe have potential for meaningful liturgical applications, but listeners interested from a pure music perspective may find them too bleak for frequent hearing. The artist who composed the Aue Maria is a composer of great talent who could pick up the tempo in his other works without losing the majesty of his intent.

Linda Holt




Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com