Oregon Bach Festival soars with Requiem

  • Jun 30, 2010
[caption id="attachment_2796" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Helmuth Rilling conducts Tamara Wilson, Marietta Simpson, Yosep Kang, and Nathan Berg"][/caption]From Oregon Music News Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival Chorus, Orchestra, and soloists delivered a stunningly beautiful and powerful performance of Verdi’s Requiem on Sunday afternoon (June 27) in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Verdi’s operatic treatment of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass received the emotional weight and thrilling sonic quality that made this concert truly spectacular. Verdi completed the Requiem in 1974 in response to the death of the Italian novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who Verdi greatly admired, but the work’s final section, Libera me, was written earlier by Verdi after the death of Gioachino Rossini in 1869. Verdi’s Requiem consists of eight sections, Latin text, and around 80 minutes to perform. Although Rilling is usually associated with Baroque music (he has done over 172 recordings of Bach’s music alone), he showed a masterful handling of the dynamic extremes in Verdi’s music. The hushed passages, such as in the opening Requiem aeternam, were like walking on clouds, and the forte of the Dies irae had the force of a maelstrom. Rilling used his parapet of a conductor’s podium to approach the chorus or address the four soloists masterfully. He also had the complete work in his head, because he didn’t use a score – an impressive feat for a man who turned 77 years old in May. Soprano soloist Tamara Wilson, was the star of the show, singing with an electrifying quality that most singers can only dream of. Wilson’s voice rose above and floated over the combined sound of the orchestra, chorus, and other soloists with a genuine sense of urgency and loveliness that can take your breath away. Her sound was never forced. The top notes were creamy, and the bottom ones had resonance to spare. It was a jaw dropping performance, especially considering that Wilson replaced the scheduled soprano Heidi Melton with only a week’s notice. Tenor Yosep Kang and bass Nathan Berg also sang superbly. Both men’s voice rang well in the hall, and Kang’s long crescendo during his solo in the Dies irae sequence was outstanding. Mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson seemed to struggle with her volume and pitch, and consequently her voice didn’t match up well with Wilson’s, especially in the exposed duet, Recordare, Jesu pie (Recall, merciful Jesus). The chorus, prepared by Kathy Saltzman Romey, sang with passion, and its diction was immaculate. The singer’s blend and volume added dramatic intensity to the piece. The orchestra played with utmost commitment. The additional trumpets in the balcony raised the hair on the back of my head and threw down a gavel on the passage that dealt with the last judgment. The flute section also excelled above and beyond the call of duty with stellar playing. While the bass drum roared in the Dies irae, the timpani seemed much to soft, but that is a minor quibble, because this concert was a real triumph. And keep your eye on Wilson; she is rising star.