Thursday March 26th, 2015 - Oratorio Society of New York presenting the Verdi REQUIEM at the Cathedral of St John the Divine. This was my second experience of this magnificent work in a sacred setting: many years ago I attended a performance of it in the Chapel at Trinity College, Hartford CT. On that evening, an organ and a small ensemble of instrumentalists played in lieu of a full orchestra, but the work still made a vivid impression. Tonight we had the admirable young musicians of the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra (and their symphonic chorus) joining the Oratorio Society for a full-force rendering of Verdi's 'sacred opera'.
A huge audience - an overflow crowd, actually - filled the cathedral and (except for one cellphone beeping at a particularly inopportune moment) they listened in reverential silence. It was overall a very fine performance of the REQUIEM but sonically it was problematic in that the reverberant echoing throughout the huge space often turned the music into a blur. Much of the music's definition was lost, and much detail from the inner orchestral voices vanished in the clouds of echo. There was the illusion of notes being played twice, and the music sometimes seemed to be fighting itself.
Kent Tritle conducted, and a strong quartet of soloists took part:
Jennifer Check, soprano
Sara Murphy, mezzo-soprano
Alex Richardson, tenor
Matthew Boehler, bass
These four singers often seemed to me to be swamped by the sound of the orchestra and chorus flowing over them in both directions. How they managed to pick up their cues, I will never know. Nevertheless, there were many savorable vocal passages. Mr. Boehler, who made a fine impression recently in IOLANTA at The Met, projected the text with vivid dynamic detail, and Mr. Richardson sang musically and with passion.
Sara Murphy, whose opulent mezzo made a marvelous impact when she sang Ligeti and Schnittke with the American Symphony Orchestra earlier this season, was very impressive tonight both for beauty of tone and clarity of projection. So much music I want to hear her sing!
Jennifer Check, who stepped in to the soprano part rather late in the day, sounded lovely. Her voice has power but also a silvery lyrical quality, and in the Offertorio she produced a spine-tingling sustained piano E-natural (which modulates magically to an E-flat...one of the most felicitous moments in this glorious work). For the great final 'aria', Requiem aeternam, Ms. Check closed her score and gave an intense, very personal performance of this prayerful solo; using her right hand in gently expressive gestures, she seemed to send forth a benediction of peace and tranquility.