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Choral Music, Orchestral Music Review Print

Brahms' Requiem Gets a Creditable Reading

April 13, 2003 - Cary, NC:

In a brief and tasteful dedication to all the military and civilian casualties of the war in Iraq, Lawrence Speakman, musical director of the Concert Singers of Cary, reminded us of why we still need this choral warhorse. Brahms was revolutionary - and particularly Protestant - in his omission of the fire and brimstone that dominates the Latin requiem mass. He aimed to make the work a comfort rather than a threat to mourners and music lovers alike. Its message is musically challenging for a community chorus but emotionally satisfying in these hard times.

CSC performed the Requiem in English in a 1997 translation by Chapel Hill native Lara G. Hoggard, and, especially under the circumstances, it would have been nice had the text been available as a program insert. As it was, it was difficult to evaluate the new translation because the acoustics of the auditorium at Cary Academy tend to diffuse the focus of the sound and make the words nearly unintelligible.

Accompanied by members of the Raleigh Symphony, the CSC obviously put a great deal of effort into this performance. Speakman emphasized the Requiem's crucial use of dynamic contrast and more or less successfully maintained the balance between chorus and orchestra. Like so many choruses, however, CSC suffers from a paucity of tenors, and Brahms gives this section an unusually prominent and exposed role in this work. The chorus performed particularly well in the homophonic passages. The turgid contrapuntal sections, like the text, were more blurred. While not meaning to set one section against another, we could not help noticing the strength and blend of the altos.

It is important to have matched soloists in this - or for that matter any - work. Baritone David Mellnik is a fine and obviously experienced musician with a powerful and well-trained voice. He was especially convincing in Part III, "Lord, teach me to know the measure of my days." Soprano Amy Athavale has a lovely but small voice and had trouble rising above the orchestra and chorus.

After the death in 2001of CSC's founder and first director, Fuller Blunt, his friends and family established a scholarship in his name for a promising high school senior to pursue a career in music education. Before the performance, CSC recognized this year's recipient, Sara Wolfgram, a flautist at Enloe High School.

In this sprawling bedroom community, the butt of so many suburbia jokes, the Concert Singers of Cary are an important resource. They are a first-rate community chorus and, we hope, are pioneering the establishment of more Cary-based arts organization (How about an orchestra?) With a new performing arts center hopefully a part of the town's future, we hope the community spawns more local groups to grace it.