stephen zopfi

Oregon Symphony review: engaging the elements of drama

Abetted by two choirs and four soloists, the orchestra’s performance of Verdi’s mighty ‘Requiem’ attained near perfection — with a single omission 

by BRUCE BROWNE

An academic analysis of the Verdi Requiem reveals the brilliance with which one of the great romantic musical dramatists set text and music for the ultimate dramatic impact. It’s all there. No brainer…let it ride…can’t improve on perfection. Right.

Not so in this series opening performance from this Oregon Symphony. Not from the Portland Symphonic Choir and Adelphian Choir of University of Puget Sound. Not from the four soloists. And not from Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony. This performance respected the performers, the composition and the audience by focusing every note, every moment, from the very beginning. Total engagement.

Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony, Portland Symphonic Choir, Adelphian Choir and soloists in Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Requiem.’ Photo: Jacob Wade.

Perfection started at the top. The Requiem’s simple opening elements — the first orchestral notes, a descending a-minor triad; the first choral line, simple open fifths on “Requiem” — floated down as if not from the stage but from the heavens. It was just one of the many precious pianissimo (soft) moments throughout the performance. And it was because of those moments that later, the powerful, ominous moments sounded even more profound. Heavens! The booming “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) scared the Hall out of us – twice! Kalmar exploited this element of tension and then brought it home with exquisite timing/rhythm.

The Requiem runs 80-90 minutes constructed in several “movements” that can break the chain of drama. Or not, as in this uninterrupted interpretation of Carlos Kalmar, who lowered his baton only once in the entire work. The emotional state was maintained by all, including the four soloists who stood ready for every passage.

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