All the tales and legends regarding the genesis of Mozart’s Requiem were swept aside by the music itself on a magnificent Sunday afternoon in Meymandi Concert Hall. Possibly that composer’s most magisterial work, it was the main offering of a splendid and moving presentation. The North Carolina Master Chorale was complemented by the Wake County High School Honors Choir, all supported by members of the Tar River Philharmonic Orchestra. Alfred E. Sturgis is Music Director of the Chorale and also principal conductor of the fine orchestra from Rocky Mount, NC.
(The concert was dedicated to the memory of Bernard Berkeley Blanchard who died in 2006. To quote from the tribute: “…we are here today to celebrate her infectious joy and generous and brave spirit which remain forever with her family and friends and those of us who knew her from her dedicated work” with the Chorale.)
Opening the concert was Beethoven’s “Elegischer Gesang”. This brief elegy, sung by the Chorale, would not be listed among the composer’s better known works. It did, however, elicit the distinctive Beethoven sound in the orchestra and chorus. The performers showed a precision and discipline so characteristic of any ensemble under this director.
The aforementioned Honors Choir was a harbinger of good times to come in the field of choral music. They performed “Lux Aeterna” by contemporary composer Brian A. Schmidt. This large choir evinced a polish far beyond their years as they sang such a difficult piece a cappella, with little apparent drag or lag.
The printed insert listed a “Program Addition” featuring “Endymion’s Sleep” by J. Mark Scearce (who was present at the performance). Inspired by a Wordsworth poem commemorating Keats, it constituted “a perfect metaphor for dying young.” And so, it was an obvious and moving honor to the memory of those victims of the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech (April 16, 2007). Performed by the strings of the Tar River PO, it was readily accessible, with a pleasing romanticism, and it powerfully bespoke the longing of the human heart.
Leading to intermission was the “Little Requiem for Father Malachy Lynch” by John Tavener. Contained here were “Requiem” and “Dies irae” sections, supplemented by a “Libera me” for the third part. It would not be inaccurate to report that the structure of the piece was startling. One of the performers thought that it might be seen as a vehicle for Music Appreciation 101. Whether many members of the audience accorded to it their full appreciation is a worthy subject for debate.
The Honors Choir joined the Chorale and orchestra to constitute truly huge forces for the Requiem. Sturgis held taut rein throughout to produce uncommonly clean sound. The tenors especially brightened the “Confutatis,” as did the sopranos in the “Hostias.” (As is usually the case, the “low” voices seldom were able to shine forth but soldiered on to provide the very foundation of choral quality.)
It is unlikely that one would ever assemble a better group of soloists for the Mozart work than soprano Anne Albert, mezzo Candice Burrows, tenor Lindell Carter, and bass Neal Sharpe. By the time the “Tuba mirum” was well underway, their quality was evident, further embellished in the “Recordare.” Seasoned performers all, each one is a music student at UNC Greensboro. The quartet in the “Benedictus” was a model of elegance.
A universally accepted fact is that Mozart had not completed this work before his death. The audience and performers were fortunate that his trusted friend Franz Sussmayer was able to bring such a masterpiece to full realization.