|Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos|
Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
What: Verdi: Messa da Requiem
When: Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8, 2014
Where: Powell Symphony Hall
[Learn more about the music with the symphony program notes and my preview article.]
The text of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, with its apocalyptic images of death and redemption, has inspired composers to produce some of their most profound and idiosyncratic work. The Italian operatic master Giuseppe Verdi, while so indifferent to religion that he was effectively an agnostic, was no exception. His 1874 "Messa da Requiem," inspired by the deaths of Rossini and the Italian poet and patriot Alessandro Manzoni, overflows with brilliantly theatrical moments, from the hair-raising Dies Irae to the heartfelt Recordare and epic Libera Me. A good performance should not spare the drama.
The Verdi "Requiem" Friday night by the orchestra, chorus, and soloists under the baton of guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos wasn't just good, it was great. It was passionate, theatrical, moving, and incredibly powerful in every possible way.
The opening Requiem began so softly that it was nearly inaudible, which made the forte "Te decet hymnus" that much more powerful. The Dies Irae was appropriately electrifying, as was the Tuba mirum, with the four offstage trumpets placed in pairs house left and right, just behind the dress circle boxes. That made for a potent stereo effect for those of us in the dress circle; in the boxes they got surround.
Soloists Angel Blue (soprano) Julia Gertseva (mezzo-soprano), Aquiles Machado (tenor), and Riccardo Zanellato (bass) found every ounce of operatic intent in this music. These were authoritatively sung and, more importantly, brilliantly acted interpretations. The soloists do most of the emotional heavy lifting in the "Requiem," so their work can make or break the production overall. These four definitely made it.
For her part, Ms. Blue demonstrated that the "shining and agile upper register, smoky middle register, and beautiful timbre" described in her program bio were more factual reporting than hype. There was an impressive body and depth to her voice throughout its range that served her well, especially in the Libera me.
Mr. Machado's entrance on "Hostias et preces tibi, Domine" ("A sacrifice of praise and prayer, O Lord") was ethereally beautiful while his "Ingemisco tumquam reus" ("I groan, as one who is accursed") ringing and heartfelt. His voice was uniformly clear and focused.
The orchestra played impeccably, as it so often does. The focus is on the vocal soloists and chorus in the "Requiem," of course, but even so Verdi has provided some nifty little instrumental moments here and there. The plaintive bassoon solo that accompanies the despairing plea for mercy of "Quid sum miser," for example, was touchingly done by Andrew Cuneo. The flute trio (Mark Sparks, Jennifer Nitchman, and Ann Choomack) that accompanies the soprano and mezzo early in the Agnus Dei was a thing of beauty as well. The brass section performed heroically (there's no other word for it) throughout, as did Shannon Wood on tympani and John Kasica on the two massive bass drums.
Amy Kaiser's chorus was, as always, a model of power and precision.
Next at Powell Hall: Serious stuff takes a holiday at George Daugherty conducts his the orchestra for "Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II" Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16. The regular season resumes when David Robertson conducts the orchestra and violin soloist Gil Shaham in Marshall's Bright Kingdoms, Korngold's Violin Concerto, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World"on Friday at 10:30 AM and at 8 PM, and Saturday at 8 PM March 21 and 22. For more information: stlsymphony.org.