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"...At the conclusion of the concert...the musicians received the best of tributes – a hushed moment of silence and reverie before the applause and standing ovation...."

 

FSO’s take on Verdi’s Requiem excelled in bombast, nuance

by Meredith Wynne

 

The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra’s Verdi Requiem with the Flagstaff Master Chorale and NAU’s Shrine of the Ages Choir last Wednesday, never failed to elicit strong emotions. Verdi’s “Requiem,” accused of being either the greatest sacred choral work ever or sentimental tripe, displayed chantlike vocal writing and sparse, monastic sounds to thunderous choral writing, orchestral pyrotechnics and remarkably “modern” chord progressions . The FSO in general excelled at both the bombast and the nuance incorporating in the ambitions score. The strings had moments of luminescence, and the quiet murmurs which opened the Requiem were stunning. Woodwinds and brass were not to be outdone (excellent bassoon quartet in the Libera Me), and the percussion was simply fantastic. So many excellent individual contributions were made, there wouldn’t be room to single out every one. Mention should be made however of Albert Harclerode, who excelled in a challenging tuba part and timpanist Steven Hemphill. Their combined industry provided a solid grounding for the whole evening.

 

Soloists included NAU faculty member Deborah Raymond and Dr. Judith Cloud, chair of the NAU voice program. Also returning was baritone Lester Lynch, fondly remembered from his appearance in the superb Elijah last May. Tenor Jeffery Springer, in his first Flagstaff appearance, offered a bright Italian Sound. All the soloists stood up to the taxing demands of the work, and achieved a sensitive blend in the vocal quartet. Highlights included anytime Lester Lynch opened his mouth, particularly on the word “mors” (death.) His ex-ressive handling of text and lush resonance ensure that he will receive a warm welcome any time in Flagstaff. The exceedingly long vocal lines of the Agnus Dei were handled skillfully and with panache by Raymond and Cloud, and the passages (including an outstanding flute trio) were conducted sensitively by Maestro Randy Fleischer.

 

The combined Flagstaff Master Chorale and NAU Shrine of the Ages Choirs were professional and enthusiastic. The preparation of Dr. Edith Copley (recently named as Arizona’s Music Teacher of the Year) showed the voices to full advantage. From the hushed opening to the hair-raising Dies Irae, it was clear that no prisoners were going to be taken; the vim and violence of the sonic wall was enough to make one repent and recant on the spot. The jubilant Sanctus with sprightly dotted rhythms and familiar tune provided another outstanding moment. Although some clarity of diction was lost in the surging lines, the vocal effects were remarkable.

 

Often the Verdi Requiem is performed with huge solo voices and professional opera choruses. This welcome attention to blending of the voices in both the choruses and solo sections highlighted often overlooked nuances of the work and added greatly to the evening.

 

Drawbacks included a translation of the texts, but not the Latin that was being sung, and the notes appeared in such a small typeface that they were unreadable once the lights were dimmed. Also, the Dies Irae sequence translation seemed to be a singing version rather than a literal translation, and featured contorted verses reminiscent of highway Burma Shave signs.

 

Occasionally, the scope of the work seemed to overcome restraint. A lovely start in the Tuba Mirum, with brass stationed in the balcony, burgeoned into pep-rally boisterousness. Occasional intonation problems surfaced and the abundance of enthusiasm once or twice pushed the sound into something reminiscent of the music of Orff.

 

Overall, it was a moving and enjoyable evening of music. At the conclusion of the concert, a high fell over the audience and the musicians received the best of tributes – a hushed moment of silence and reverie before the applause and standing ovation.