Performance of Berlioz's 'Requiem' is a giant Music Review

April 27, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Berlioz's "Requiem" was described by the poet Alfred de Vigny as "strange and beautiful, wild, convulsive and painful."

The composer himself, enormously happy with what he called his work's "overwhelming impression," reported almost gleefully that one of the female choristers at the "Requiem's" first performance in 1837 suffered a nervous collapse during the roar of its music for the "Dies irae."

The Romantic age has a propensity for overstatement. But after hearing the piece Thursday in Meyerhoff Hall, this listener is here to tell you that it's all true: Berlioz's "Requiem" is a huge, mind-boggling piece.

How huge?

With David Zinman, the members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, additional musicians from the Peabody Institute and additional choristers from Peabody and the University of Maryland at College Park and tenor soloist John Aler, the number of musicians performing the "Requiem" (which was repeated last night) totaled more than 400.

Many musicians

With the possible exception of the forces arrayed for the BSO's performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 a few years back, this must have been the largest group of musicians ever called upon for a symphonic performance at Meyerhoff Hall.

The musicians actually spilled out into the hall. Four brass choirs (with timpani) occupied whole boxes in all four corners of the hall, besieging listeners with sound from all directions.

But Zinman's performance was more than loud -- though it was earsplittingly so at times, as it was in the conductor's enormously urgent "Rex tremendae."

Zinman, like his teacher Pierre Monteux, knows how to bring out the classicist as well as the romanticist in Berlioz, and he was equally -- if not actually more -- persuasive in the softer portions of the score.

The work of the choristers, from the biggest fortissimos to the softest-grained passages, was excellent throughout, and John Aler's ardent solo in the "Sanctus" was beautifully projected.

Pub Date: 4/27/96

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