The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Music in the Mountains Festival Chorale
Verdi Requiem - June 21, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
The Music in the Mountains organization traces its history back to the early 1980s, and it produces three “festivals” per year, of which Summerfest has become a summer tradition, not only for area residents, but for audience members from all over northern California. Of the ten Summerfest concerts this year, the Verdi Requiem was the second, and it drew a sold-out crowd of over 600. It was a festive occasion, with a lot of socializing around the wine bar, many people with badges, and a mixed crowd dressed in everything from shorts and polo shirt to jacket and tie (and the female equivalent).
The 100-member Music in the Mountains Festival Chorale seemed to be almost at full strength, seated behind and above the 60-member orchestra. There were welcoming remarks by MIM officials, and an unusual personal reminiscence by a long-standing horn player. (Surprisingly, he spoke from his seat – after the orchestra had tuned.) It set an atmosphere of informality, which was quickly erased by the performance itself, which proceeded with 80 minutes of uninterrupted music.
The Verdi Requiem is a favorite of choruses (and audiences) for its profusion of wonderful melodies and great emotional range. What the audience this evening got was an authentic performance of the piece that did justice to its lyricism and variety of moods.
This is clearly an excellent chorus, well-rehearsed, sensitive, and accurate. Perhaps it was inevitable (and recognize that this is a chorus person speaking), but I felt that they were often overbalanced by the orchestra. It’s a problem that seems unavoidable in concert halls with acoustics that are as friendly to instruments as to voices.
When the orchestra was playing softly or when fewer instruments were playing or when the chorus was singing a cappella, they had what seemed like a very accurate, well-blended ensemble sound. Forte sections were controlled, and this was especially noticeable on the part of the sopranos. And I noticed that the tenors made for very pleasant listening when they had a solo passage.
I thought the orchestra had a particularly rich sound emanating from the large string section. The brass, too, was outstanding throughout, and having pairs of trumpets playing from 3 positions – two on either side part-way into the audience – was quite effective during the Dies Irae.
It would be interesting to see the number of minutes sung by soloists vs. the number of minutes sung by the chorus in this piece. I believe the soloists would win. So a lot of the quality of this performance rested on the soloists, and by and large they did yeoman work. My favorite was the mezzo-soprano (Jennifer Kosharsky) , whose pleasing tone also carried the most passion, and who just owned the Dies Irae with her solo performance in it. The bass (Kevin Thompson) came a close second, with an extraordinarily strong low range. At times he seemed like a man with a volcano inside, and his singing – even in forte passages – cut right through the orchestra.
If I could have asked for something more in this performance, it might be for a bit more passion from the chorus. I scanned for expressive faces, heads shaking, bodies undulating, etc. – but didn’t see much. In fact, I was surprised how few of the singers seemed animated. This was in contrast with the soloists, who moved expressively. Maybe this is an issue over which chorus singers (and directors) can honestly differ. But audiences have eyes as well as ears. And they have to look at something while they’re listening to the music. So for me, there’s a bit of a letdown, when there seems to be an inconsistency between what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.
In the end, though, that’s a minor criticism. The chorus gave a strong, accurate performance, and together with the skillful efforts of orchestra, soloists, and of course, director, the audience was treated to a faithful expression of the genius of Guiseppe Verdi.