The program that the Oratorio Chorale presented over the weekend, with a performance Saturday evening in Portland and two in Brunswick on Sunday afternoon, was offered as a form of consolation in difficult times – the difficulties ranging, as artistic director Emily Isaacson put it in her pre-concert remarks, from a difficult winter and an out-of-control flu season to political dissension and national disunity.

The two works she chose for this spirit-calming program, Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem and Robert Kyr’s “The Cloud of Unknowing,” could not have been better suited to the task at hand. Both were rooted in ancient, sacred texts, which tempted listeners to set today’s problems aside and focus on more transcendent issues. And although the Fauré was completed in 1890 and the Kyr was composed in 2013, they shared a delicate, transparent approach to musical language that made them suitable companions.

The Fauré, which opened the program (I heard the first of the Sunday performances), is one of the classical repertory’s two great nonstandard requiems. Like Brahms, Fauré wanted to create a gentle but powerful requiem that painted a vision of the afterlife in which the soul was embraced, rather than judged.

Brahms’ solution was to replace the traditional Latin text with Psalms and other biblical ruminations on mortality. Fauré kept some of the traditional text, but dropped others, most notably the Dies Irae, with its references to divine wrath and the consignment of sinners to the flames. Theology aside, that’s a sacrifice in musical terms, because the Dies Irae text offers plenty of opportunity for grand dramatic gestures – think of the explosive Dies Irae in the Verdi Requiem, with its pounding bass drums and chromatically descending figures.

But Fauré’s softer edges and graceful, Gallic melodies are so hard to resist that you willingly trade in the pyrotechnics for them. Isaacson’s choir, supported by a small orchestra with the DaPonte String Quartet at its heart, and Christopher Pelonzi at the organ, sang the music with the delicacy and suppleness most of it requires, but also moved easily into (and out of) passages that demanded greater heft and vehemence.

The vocal soloists – baritone David Farwig in the Hostias section of the Offertory and the opening section of the Libera Me, and soprano Estelí Gomez (a member of the new-music vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, which performed in Portland last month) in the exquisite Pie Jesu – shaped their lines beautifully, as did Dino Lipa, who played the solo violin lines.

Kyr’s 25-minute work, a meditation on spiritual love, is built around a heady blend of mystical texts, including an anonymous, 14th-century English treatise on contemplation, writings of St. Teresa of Ávila, in antique Spanish and passages from Latin versions of Psalms 42 and 136.

Musically, the work is in what might be called a modern church style – vaguely liturgical, but with inventive, free-ranging structural touches, like the opening section in which the focus moves briskly from the solo voices, through each section of the choir – moving upward from the basses to the sopranos – before blossoming into the full choir.

Kyr’s melodic lines are appealingly chromatic, and his opulent harmonic fabric is mostly consonant and soothing (what dissonance there is resolves quickly). At times, the piece seemed a kindred spirit of the post-Minimalist sacred works of Arvo Pärt and Somei Satoh, although Kyr’s style is entirely his own. And if he sometimes seems given to dramatic touches in his orchestration – tense, tremolando string figures and horn fanfares, for example – they evaporate nearly as quickly as they catch the ear.

Gomez and Farwig were the soloists when the vocal ensemble Conspirare gave the piece its premiere, and they are among its dedicatees, so having them as soloists here was a nice touch. (Kyr was on hand as well, to help in the preparation of the performance and to speak with the audience.) They sang the solo lines with fluidity and command – most strikingly in the “Beseeching” section, on a text by St. Teresa of Ávila – both individually and in tandem. And the choir produced a rich, impeccably blended sound.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kozinn

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