IT CALLS ITSELF the Handel Choir but yesterday it was the Verdi Choir. It sang the Manzoni Requiem passionately in only the second time since the group began here in 1934 (the first Requiem was in 1971). It was 95 uninterrupted minutes of polished Verdian contrasts in the requiem that speaks of death but feels of life.
Giuseppe Verdi revered text almost as much as music. So the soft descending cellos led effectively into the opening words "Grant them rest eternal, Lord." The crashing tumult of the four G minor chords of "Day of anger, day of trouble" unfolded. A peaceful duet delivered the placid "Lamb of God" and the chorus and soprano whispered "deliver my soul" on Judgment Day.
But as is so often the case with Verdi, the music is the real poetry as well as the sound, and it was true again at the Kraushaar Auditorium of Goucher College. The Handel Choir of 85 voices, four soloists and 40 instrumentalists under conductor T. Herbert Dimmock melded into a thoroughly melodious seven movements.
They met Verdi's devilishly different volume demands. May they not wait another two decades for this piece written upon the 1873 death of Alessandro Manzoni, the Italian poet and novelist. It is as enduring as the operas and, for many, more meaningful as a human and musical statement than some other requiems.
The four soloists, concert and operatic veterans, sang with lovely tone and operatic fervor. Only bass Jonathan Deutsch had appeared with the choir before. After the "Dies irae" trumpets boomed from three sides, his "Mors stupebit" (Death is enchained) was properly soft, dressed with strings and punctuated by bass drum.
Poignant also were mezzo-soprano Nancy Ortez in one of her several fervent solos "Liber scriptus" (The record shall be cited) and tenor Paul McIlvaine's lyrical solo "Ingemisco tamquam reu" (Sadly groaning, guilt feeling) alternating with a single oboe.
Soprano Katherine Johnson created several lovely duets with Ortez and brought her voice to the proper climax in the final movement, "Libera me." Her "Tremens factus" (I am full of terror) and repeat of opening Requiem melody with the choir was distinctly moving.
There may have been minor questions, such as a trumpet slip or an extra-quick jump into a movement, but this was a fine emotional performance. A standing ovation followed. Slipped into the program was a useful verbatim Latin text with English translation. Peabody's Dr. Eileen Soskin, alto member, lectured on the Requiem before the performance.
The Handel Choir's last performance this season is Haydn's "Harmony Mass" and Bach's "Coffee Cantata" at 4 p.m. May 19 at Second Presbyterian Church.
Next season's schedule was announced in the program: Oct. 27 -- music for chorus, organ and brass at the Basilica of the Assumption; Dec. 13, 14, 15, 17 -- Handel's "Messiah" (250th anniversary ); Feb. 29, 1992 -- Bach motets and Brandenburg No. 6; April 5, 1992 -- Bach's "St. John Passion" at Kraushaar; May 17, 1992 -- American Music (Bernstein, Copland, Sprenkle and spirituals) and June 21, 1992 -- Handel Festival (Chamber Choir singing choruses and "Water Music Suite").