Paul Moravec’s ambitious The Blizzard Voices chronicles a snowstorm that suddenly struck across the upper Midwest in 1888 and killed hundreds, including a large number of children returning home from school. It is a secular oratorio, the third of the composer’s ‘American Historical’ series of large-scale choral works, and brings an impressive battery of musical resources to the task. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and essayist Ted Kooser’s book of the same name and commissioned by Opera Omaha, The Blizzard Voices was premiered in 2008, taken to Carnegie Hall in 2013 and has now received its first recording, made in 2015 at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts.
A Prologue opens with ominous Mahlerian octaves. The blizzard itself comes early on, with lightning and a cataclysmic rush that suggests Verdi’s Requiem and engulfs the simple children’s games and all else before it. This sets the scene for a series of testimonials from survivors and victims that serve as a powerful theme-and-variations narrative context; after the impersonal, implacable opening, the emergence of individual voices is all the more welcome and engaging, although I don’t hear much of the Midwest in either the text or the music.
The composer says in his booklet notes that ‘a well-balanced mixed chorus singing perfectly in tune strikes me as the most beautiful and resonant of sonorities’. The New England Conservatory Concert Choir and Chamber Singers give him all that and, with expert work from the orchestra and earnest, generally splendid work from the soloists, give a passionate and committed performance.