The sheer sonic force of the Bach Festival Society Choir and Orchestra and the amazingly expressive conducting style of their leader in Saturday night’s performance of Verdi’s epic Requiem were almost overwhelming. Assembled at Knowles Chapel – the heart of Rollins College – the 160-piece choir, orchestra and four soloists inaugurated the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park’s 2011-2012 season with a totally electrifying, moving and sometimes terrifying performance of this colossus of choral pieces.
A tribute to writer Alessandro Manzoni and to the composer’s role model, Rossini, Verdi’s stark large-scale choral piece purportedly features some of the loudest unamplified music ever written. A visit to Knowles Chapel last weekend would have surely confirmed this notion to any skeptic; however, the spirit and merit of a moving performance do not lie in the accuracy of the extreme dynamics from the orchestra, but on the delivery of expressive contrasts and emotional treatment of the music. Both of these instances were beautifully laid out to a dumbstruck audience by Artistic Director and Conductor John Sinclair. His uniquely expressive interpretation drew out a most heartfelt performance of this piece.
From the very beginning, the achievement in balance between all voices, the lucidity in transformation from section to section and the perfectly accomplished details in dynamics were clearly evident in Sinclair’s reading of the piece. The execution of the opening theme from the Dies irae – hinging the whole work with later reappearances – was a violent outburst of power and emotion from ensemble and conductor. Even a deaf person would have been alarmed by the emphatic body gestures of Sinclair and the fierce response from chorus, brass, strings, winds and percussion, including the signature forte bangs on the offbeats. The result was shocking and every bit as brutal as the apocalyptic text from this mass for the dead demand.
The soloists were superb. Tenor Robert Breault got the first spotlight and delivered a warm interpretation throughout, with a warm and sweet tone which was absolutely pleasing. Likewise, Puerto Rican bass Ricardo Lugo boasted an amazing tone. His low tone and style were most effective during the sections with texts that recall doomsday images, such as the Tuba mirum, with the offstage trumpets, and the dismal Confutatis.
In contrast to the brass outbursts of the louder sections, some of the most touching moments of the whole performance featured soprano Paula Delligatti and mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore. Indeed, a gorgeous moment was their duet on the Agnus dei, which intertwined both voices wonderfully, with support from the chorus. Also very moving was their performance of the Lacrymosa, at the end of the first section, with the male soloists and choir. The purity of their tone, mingling with a perfectly balanced orchestra and choir – all parts cohesively strung together and given consideration to texture by Sinclair – was the culmination of the performance. Verdi’s perfect score allows all four soloists to come to the fore and make their presence dutifully noted. After a moving trio of tenor, bass and mezzo, the soprano gets the last word on the Libera me, the oldest section of the Requiem. Delligatti’s rich soprano closed the piece with a memorable performance, asking for deliverance from the Lord with truly impressive belting power. Every aspect of this production of Verdi’s very operatic Requiem was of highest ranks and made for a performance that will not be forgotten in the history of this illustrious local organization.
To learn about upcoming performances of the Bach Festival Society, click here.
To read a review of a recent performance by the Bach Festival Society Orchestra of Mozart’s Requiem, click here.
To watch a video with John Sinclair talking about this production of Verdi’s Requiem, click here.
To watch a performance of the brutally forceful opening from the Dies irae, click here.