`Requiem' evokes recent tragic events

Choral Arts gives an involving and taut performance

Music Review

April 12, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

When the Baltimore Choral Arts Society scheduled the monumental Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi for this season, no one could have known it would be performed in the wake of high-profile events that would have much of the world thinking anew about death and how to approach it.

On Saturday night, as the fears and prayers that propel Verdi's music filled the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, it was hard sometimes to treat the experience as purely musical.

There seemed to be nothing at all remote about the ancient Latin text, its images of the faint and weary, the groaning supplicant, the cross of suffering, the day of tears and mourning. I doubt I was the only one reminded of the passing of a revered pontiff or an unfortunate woman in Florida caught between two realms and divergent intentions.

Part of this Requiem's power has always been its simultaneously universal and personal feelings, and the intense, part-confrontational, part-embracing way they are expressed. The piece doesn't easily let a listener off the philosophical hook; attention must be paid.

Tom Hall led an admirably taut and involving account of the score. He ensured that the hushed opening registered deeply, making the softness as powerful as any outburst to come.

And when those outbursts arrived in the Dies Irae section, Hall summoned plenty of fire and brimstone from the sizable forces onstage - his Baltimore chorus was supplemented by the Temple University Concert Choir from Philadelphia and backed by the Arlington Symphony Orchestra from Virginia.

The choristers held firm in pitch and tone all night, articulating Verdi's rich chords and stirring counterpoint with considerable warmth and style. The community-level orchestra encountered rough patches (the strings were quite unsettled in the Offertorio), but, in the end, got the job done effectively.

Hall's choice of guest soloists proved highly beneficial. Except in the lowest reaches, soprano Kelly Nassief's singing had remarkable power and beauty. Mezzo-soprano Carmella Jones revealed a sumptuous voice and strongly communicative phrasing that enveloped the hall and enriched the entire performance.

Although Jeffrey Springer's volume control seemed to have only loud and louder settings, the tenor's unabashedly operatic style made a stirring impression. David Arnold's sizable, vivid baritone and distinctively sculpted phrases made him a commanding presence.

The only dispiriting note of the concert was the attendance. The place should have been packed.

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