A death-defying Mozart `Requiem'

BSO: Yuri Temirkanov's version looks ahead from the 18th century into the 19th.

March 31, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

In a case of genuine tragedy, or, at the very least, extreme irony, Mozart apparently stopped composing a few measures into a section of the ancient Requiem Mass for the Dead called the "Lacrimosa." It's about the day of tears and mourning when the guilty shall be judged.

The way Mozart began that music -- an arching, aching melodic line and a steady, somber beat, like the muffled march of a cortege -- has long haunted listeners. The image of this supreme genius dying at 35, unable to finish that Requiem, sensing within himself the deadly tread of the "Lacrimosa," is a difficult one to shake.

Yuri Temirkanov made it possible to conjure up another picture last night as he led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a tense performance of Mozart's "Requiem." The conductor seemed to envision the composer more as a defiant Beethoven-type, not fading away, but shaking his fist at the heavens, staring death in the face.

There was a firm emphasis on the forward-looking ideas in the score, the exceptional burst of creativity that characterizes every measure Mozart was able to complete, or at least sketch out. (The conductor also made it clear how much he believes in the once widely denigrated version of the score completed by Mozart's pupil Franz Sussmayr.)

Temirkanov made it possible to hear a pre-echo of such monumental works as Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" or Verdi's "Requiem," to hear not so much a summation of an artist's life as a taste of how far he might have gone had death not intervened.

Instead of a modest-sized chorus and orchestra, along the lines that Mozart knew and that present-day specialists in 18th-century performance practice emulate, Meyerhoff Hall was filled with voices and instruments. (Members of the Choral Arts Society of Washington supplemented the BSO Chorus.)

When the chorus burst out with "Rex tremendae majestatis," there really was a "tremendous majesty" in the sound, with thick, deep orchestral coloring supporting the singers. Likewise, when the great fugue in the "Offertorium" arrived, depicting the progression of "Abraham and his seed," the full weight of history seemed to be behind the music.

Because Temirkanov urged his forces to shake the rafters at every opportunity, the performance lost a little as it went along; with a dynamic level that peaked early on, there wasn't any extra power left by the end of the piece. Still, the drama that the conductor whipped up proved terrifically persuasive. (I only wish he had shortened pauses between various movements or sections within movements; each break only encouraged coughers.)

The chorus, prepared by Frank Nemhauser, revealed considerable technical strengths (the solidity of the tenors in high-reaching passages was one example) and a flair for producing the vivid articulation Temirkanov wanted.

The quartet of soloists -- soprano Indra Thomas, mezzo Marietta Simpson, tenor Kenneth Tarver, bass Eric Owens -- made what was in this context a small-ish sound, but sang with consistent sensitivity, especially in the "Recordare" movement.

The BSO turned in a taut, cohesive performance. The lower strings and trombone soloist offered particular richness of tone and dark beauty of phrasing.


What:Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform Mozart's "Requiem" conducted by Yuri Temirkanov

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Cathedral and Preston streets

When: 8 p.m. today, 3 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: Sold out, except for unreserved seating vouchers, $24.

Call: 410-783-8000

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