Persuasive Requiem musters power, precision
by ANDREW ADLER
Most Louisville Orchestra seasons boast at least one example of the ensemble mustering sufficient resources of money, personnel and musical imagination to achieve something genuinely spectacular. This year the vehicle is Verdi's Requiem, in which spectacle is never far from the interpretive foreground.
With its large instrumental and vocal requirements, the Requiem makes immense demands on any orchestra — particularly those, like Louisville's, that often don't have the pocketbooks to match their ambitions.
But yesterday's U.S. Bank Coffee Concert performance at the Kentucky Center had all the confidence and authentic Verdian style one could reasonably (and perhaps unreasonably) expect. It was a tremendous effort that brought equally tremendous satisfaction.
Music Director Uriel Segal presided over forces that included the University of Louisville Collegiate Chorale, Voces Novae, the Choral Arts Society and the Christ Church United Methodist Chancel Choir. Also participating were soprano Angela M. Brown, mezzo-soprano Angela Horn, tenor Philip Webb and baritone Timothy Noble.
You want big? You got big.
Listeners in Whitney Hall might have expected a mighty punch from all of those artists, and customary grand moments of the Requiem thundered, blazed and generally fulminated in proper proportion. Still, yesterday's performance wasn't all about grandly scaled music-making, because the Requiem isn't solely that kind of score. Indeed, one could argue that Verdi was just as concerned with intimacy as he was with explosiveness.
Segal understood that quiet could be just as theatrical as triple-forte volume. He treated the opening bars as a hushed prelude, coaxing the barest string sound that melted into the chorus's initial whispered "Requiem ..."
Moving directly from here to the bold contrast of the soloists' overlapping declarations, the performance's authority was asserted in unmistakable fashion.
There were instances yesterday when I wished the orchestra and vocalists could have been transported to an acoustically superior space. The Whitney doesn't especially favor very large choral groups. I knew the choristers were singing thrustfully during appropriate sections of the "Dies Irae," yet the weight of their collective voice didn't wrap around me as they would, say, in Cincinnati's Music Hall.
Nonetheless, their articulation, sense of color and precise attacks — not to mention their sheer stamina — reflected mutual attention and expert preparation.
The four vocal soloists made handsome contributions of their own. Verdi cast his Requiem as he might one of his operas, and all four knew when to inject a bit of theater.
Noble may not have plunged as deeply as some basses who take on "Mors stupebit et natura," but he made us shiver just the same. Horn, after some early reticence, gathered herself for several extended spans of precisely flavored singing. Webb, too, proved an exceptionally persuasive Verdi tenor, never confusing vigor with bluster.
As for Brown, well, her "Libera me" provided the epic, almost desperate, emotional summation necessary for the Requiem to find its mark. She poured put tone that cut through the densest of orchestral textures, closing with Verdi's celebrated half-sung, half-whispered, "Deliver me."
From these committed performers, it was a plea you didn't dare ignore.