Well-phrased `Requiem' in Annapolis

February 18, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Giuseppe Verdi was a devout agnostic, which makes his Requiem all the more riveting a statement. Doubt, fear and trepidation infuse the score as much as reverence.

The huge work reflects on death and eternal judgment with all the theatrical gestures of grand opera, yet beneath the often overwhelming surface can be heard the frail voice of a single, insecure soul.

A great performance reveals that inner voice as powerfully as all the drama provided by four soloists, large chorus and orchestra. The account of the Requiem by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and Heritage Signature Chorale Friday evening at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts did not dig quite far enough behind the notes and was also hindered by technical shortcomings, but it still met Verdi's challenge honorably.

At its best, the presentation tapped the work's emotional turmoil and conveyed enough of its musical brilliance to leave a potent impression.

Conductor Leslie B. Dunner might have achieved more interpretive impact had not an intermission been inserted into the Requiem. It was akin to looking at half the Mona Lisa, then coming back after 20 minutes to see the rest.

Verdi's score is so tightly woven that a break destroys its momentum; worse, it softens the blow of the reprise, during the finale, of the horrifying Dies Irae and its catastrophic bass drum from the second movement.

That issue aside, Dunner held things together and, in particular, fired up the most ferocious passages. He made sure that the Dies Irae truly registered. Some of the more lyrical moments could have used greater sensitivity; the Agnus Dei flowed a little too quickly and matter-of-factly.

In a novel, affecting touch, Dunner had the chorus hold onto and slowly fade its very last note after the orchestra members had finished theirs.

Although lacking in smoothness of blend and, sometimes, quality of tone, the chorale (prepared by Stanley Thurston) phrased vividly. Likewise, the orchestra had its troubles (the wayward cellos at the start of the Offertorio, for example), but there was a good deal of effective playing; in the Dies Irae, the brass produced a mighty sound and the drum beats nearly shook the walls.

Of the soloists, mezzo Judith Engel and bass Les Young did the most secure, expressive singing.

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