Program suffers when chorus overwhelms orchestra

March 23, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

That the Baltimore Symphony Chorus is a superior ensemble, and that conductor Edward Polochick has done a fine job in the 15 years he has directed it, was obvious last night in Meyerhoff Hall in an all-Mozart concert with the BSO that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of the chorus.

The centerpiece of the program (and the only work in which the chorus appeared) was Mozart's "Requiem" in D Minor (K. 626), the composer's final, not-quite-completed work.

The singing of the chorus was confident in attack and eloquent of utterance, and the massed sound it produced was luminous at both soft and loud dynamic levels.

The performance was intelligently conducted by Polochick; the quartet of soloists -- soprano Karen Clift, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, tenor Tracey Welborn and baritone James Michael McGuire -- was well-balanced; and the level of the orchestral playing was always first-rate and sometimes -- as it was in Christopher Dudley's trombone solo in "Rex Tremendae" -- much more than that.

So why did this listener find this performance so relatively lifeless?

The answer has to do with the good intentions of such celebrations.

This is a week in which the orchestra is split -- the other players will appear in this weekend's pops concerts -- and Polochick was necessarily confined to the smallish orchestra typically used for performances of the Requiem.

But because it was an important birthday, he also had to use the full chorus, plus (one suspects) some choristers who were returning for the occasion.

There were more than 150 singers on stage -- perhaps as many as 170.

This was too much.

There were plenty of moments when the chorus -- for all its musicality and restraint -- simply could not help but overwhelm the orchestra.

When three of the best trombone players in the country are blowing full-tilt and still cannot be heard, one knows that this is not the way that Mozart meant for us to pass from this into the next world.

The first half of the concert was more successful.

Mozart's Serenade No. 13 (K. 525), popularly known as "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," was delivered affectionately; it was charming, lively and (in the final movement) filled with enough panache.

The concert's highlight was an outstanding performance of the composer's early cantata, "Exsultate, jubilate" (K. 165).

The singing of soprano soloist Karen Clift was technically secure, flexible and radiant in her phrasing and, in the final "Alleluia," infectiously joyous.

Polochick and the BSO provided a stylish and sensitive accompaniment.

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