Earnest `Requiem' performance

Concert review

March 26, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Composer Paul Hindemith once said, "The great harmony is death," an observation that makes perfect sense whenever I hear Maurice Durufle's Requiem. This choral masterpiece's treatment of death is profoundly lyrical, taking the edge off of the ancient Latin text and exchanging comfort and hope for all the fear and sadness associated with the end of life.

Part of what gives Durufle's 1947 creation its distinctive character is the way Gregorian chants are transformed into freshly communicative melodies by means of exquisite chords. In essence, the ear receives two signals, one from the earliest centuries of written music, the other -- providing the "great harmony" -- from what still qualifies as our own time.

A welcome, earnest performance of the Requiem, commemorating the centennial of Durufle's birth, was delivered Sunday by the combined forces of the Columbia Pro Cantare and Second Presbyterian Church Choir before a capacity crowd at Second Presbyterian.

Although the choruses did not produce a consistently smooth, well-balanced sound, their sensitive phrasing revealed enough of the rich layers in Durufle's score, and its few emphatic moments were delivered with sufficient power.

Conductor Frances Motyca Dawson could have chosen broader tempos in some places and, especially, lingered a little longer on the final notes of each movement. Still, she gave the music an effective flow and tapped much of its haunting beauty.

Baritone Steven Rainbolt sang his solos with considerable vibrancy and polish; mezzo-soprano Marianna Busching had difficulty in the upper register but conveyed the exquisite poetry of the Pie Jesu prayer.

Margaret Budd provided excellent support at the organ, complemented ably by a small ensemble of instrumentalists. Budd was likewise valuable during the first half of the imaginative program, which honored other composers with major anniversaries this year:

Charles Villiers Stanford (born 1852) was represented by his gentle setting of The Lord is My Shepherd and vivid Nunc Dimittis; the combined choirs responded to both pieces warmly. Ditto for two scores by William Walton (born 1902) -- Jubilate Deo and Set Me As a Seal Upon Thine Heart (the latter with eloquent solos from soprano Lorraine Hungerford Flint and tenor John Cain).

There was room, too, for infrequently encountered music by Edmund Rubbra (his centennial was last year). His Song of the Soul needed a little more technical finesse from Pro Cantare's Chamber Singers, but the mystical text and exotic harmonization were compelling nonetheless.

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