Saturday, May 02, 2015

Back to Basics

I envisioned this blog as something in between. There is room, I thought, for someone to review and comment upon classical music concerts and the occasional recording from an informed listener's perspective. More than "I liked" or "I didn't like" but less than the technical reviews who excoriate a performance where the "second bassoon misses the quiet back beats that are essential to the architecture..." and so on.

But I noticed that in my recent writing, I was starting to lean towards the latter... and not being a trained musician, was failing miserably.

Thus I am going to head back to what I think I do best, comment on what I heard but from the informed listener's aspect. I know a lot about music, I know what I like. I can tell good from bad, committed from apathetic and when a performer or ensemble communicates their message. That is what made "Puggingham Palace" and now "Pictures on Silence" what it is... whatever that is. It made it fun for me, and being selfish, that is what I am going to do.

Back to basics, and if lean towards the extremes as I mentioned above... call me on it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Concord Essay

I love the term “bucket list” and think everyone should have one. For the un-initiated, the term comes from a movie where two terminally ill men go off on an adventure to do things they always wanted to do before they euphemistically “kick the bucket”. One of life's greatest pleasures is to cross off something on one's list.

This past Saturday February 21st, I got to do just that. I heard a live, complete performance of a work on my music “bucket list”, the Piano Sonata No. 2 (Concord, Mass., 1840-1860) by Charles Ives. In St Joseph, Missouri of all places, performed by the remarkable, über-talented and shall we say brave pianist Robert Pherigo. Assisting in this insane genius work was Rico McNeela in the tiny, but often omitted viola line in the first movement and Lyra Pherigo in the more important but also sometimes omitted flute part in the Thoreau movement.

As was typical of the feisty and innovative composer, Ives broke most of the piano sonata rules. The sonata is programmatic to a point, something rather unusual for a piano sonata, being a musical portrait of transcendentalist authors who lived in Concord, Massachusetts, around 1840-1860: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Alcott's Louisa May and her father Bronson, and Henry David Thoreau. Most classical sonatas were in three movements, but Ives included four, stretching the work to almost symphonic stature. Few, if any, piano sonatas have parts for viola and flute scattered about either. Early material exists from around 1904 and it seems the work was conceived as a piano concerto. Work on the solo sonata started in earnest around 1910-11 and was mostly finished around 1915. Ives tended to fiddle with his music off and on thus the work was revised in 1947, the edition that seems to be played the most.

Like icing on a tasty cake was the informative pre-concert talk by author and composer Kyle Gann, one of the foremost authorities on Charles Ives, the Concord Sonata and Vice President of the Charles Ives society. Gann focused on the work's background and the personages that inspired it while highlighting the recurring themes and motives that tie the sprawling work into a quite logical and organic whole.

More than a recital or concert, this was an old fashioned “happening” for those who remember what that meant.

The performance? I make no bones that I am nowhere near qualified to judge, just looking at the score gives me a headache. I found it technically excellent to my ears, having heard the work many times in recordings and Robert negotiated the work from memory without a visible sweat or concern. A Hamelin, Fitzpatrick, Denk or Kalish might bring more polish, technical brilliance and more experience with the complex score (Hamelin's “Alcotts” will bring goose-bumps, but this one was not far behind) but Pherigo brought the work and Concord, Mass. to life for the appreciative audience, many of whom I am sure, like me, had never had the opportunity to hear it live. Even Gann said it had been a while for him. Certainly far far far and did I say far from a slam-bang run through, Robert found the humor, the lyricism, the tenderness, nobility and humanity in this complex score. On that damp, winter night in St Joseph Robert brought the work to life, let us glimpse the world of the denizens of Concord and communicated Ives own commentary on them and on humanity itself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kansas City Symphony: Old and New

The Kansas City Symphony concerts for the weekend of January 16-18 likely attracted two different types of listeners; those who never tire of hearing the standard repertoire again and again and, quite oppositely, those looking to hear new works fresh from the composer's pen. A new concerto by composer, conductor, pianist, jazz and pop artist Andre Previn just premiered last November was sandwiched in between two giants of the orchestra repertoire, the Mozart Symphony no. 35 “Haffner” and Brahms' Symphony No. 1. Michael Stern, music director conducted, with Jaime Laredo, Violin and Sharon Robinson, Cello as solos in the Previn.

The Cincinnati Symphony plus a consortium of orchestras, including the Kansas City Symphony, commissioned Previn to write the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra for Laredo and Robinson. Orchestras in Austin, Detroit, Los Angeles, Canada and Europe are scheduled to perform the work over the next few months.

The Double Concerto, clocking a compact 20 minutes is certainly bright, colorful (yet fairly conventionally scored) with little, if any, qualities that would offend the most conservative of listeners. Yet immediately afterward it was difficult, if not impossible, to really remember anything about the work.

The first movement “Quasi Allegretto” immediately introduces the violin and cello echoing the Brahms Double Concerto. There the comparison ends. Glowing, busy and certainly virtuosic, the movement lacks organization and seems to move from one episode and mood to another. Laredo and Robinson, long time collaborators and spouses, dig in to the busy music, keeping their lines and glowing tones above all the fray.

Part bluesy nocturne, part-heart-on sleeve romantic fantasy, the second movement marked “slow” has more emotional gravitas and, due to the slower tempo, seems to be more organized. Chains of lovely melodies abound, major key statements and swelling dynamics morph into minor key angst... yet again the movement leaves little lasting impression. The final movement, “Presto” is a fun, skittish romp ending in big honking C major chords for all assembled. The prestige and orchestras behind this work will ensure that many will hear it but to me the Double Concerto is “gone in 60 seconds”... here one second, gone the next.

Mozart's “Haffner” Symphony No. 35 in D, K.385 opened the program. Stern and the symphony reminded the audience that the work began as a serenade (not to be confused with the Serenade also known as “Haffner” in the same key, K.250) with a sprightly and spirited performance. Mozart asked that the first movement be “played with fire” and the last “as fast as possible; Stern and his forces certainly obeyed Mozart's command. Stern's graceful but not fussy “Andante” 2nd movement contrasted nicely with the energetic 1st, 3rd and 4th movements. Mozart added flutes and clarinets to the symphony's orchestration giving it a more mellow yet full texture. This touch benefited the always excellent KCS woodwinds, allowing them to contribute to an appropriately propulsive opener.

When I was introduced to the Brahms Symphony No. 1 in c op 68. my classical music mentor Herbert Glass told me that the work needs to start off “like a force of nature” or else it is a failure. Dr. Glass was a geologist by profession so he knew much about forces of nature, of course. And he is right and so was Stern and the KCS in their performance. Right from the start this was a powerful and forward performance. Not a glacier force but one like a flowing river, relentless but with control.

I am known to readers and friends as not a big fan of Brahms. Perhaps I have been exposed to too much glacier-like performances. Brahms had to be big, heavy, bulky and sometimes sweet, like a good German dinner. Stern has always gotten Johannes up from the table and out for a brisk jog in the woods, all to great benefit. Trust me, there is still great majesty and throughout, the final pages of the first movement, the opening of the finale, and the climatic pages of the “allegretto” 3rd movement, are just a few. Stern also is keen to note the change in mood and temperature the middle two movements bring to the work. He does not allow them to wallow but provides just enough contrast and release of tension to make the final movement even more persuasive.

Special mention must be made to the excellent brass performances in this work. Not all that long ago, the anticipation of a prolonged horn or trumpet solo caused great anxiety among the regulars in the hall. Not now. The horns, introducing the alphorn inspired theme, emerged glowing and golden from the low strings and tympani, followed by the dulcet flute. A minor bobble of the trumpet and trombone chorale there after marred little, the whole episode was breathtaking. The chorale theme, an homage to Beethoven, demonstrated the excellent sound of Helzberg Hall, one could hear the darker husk of the violas, bringing out a texture not often captured on a recording. Stern milked the drama from the movement's final pages, not a headlong dash but an unleashing of the once bottled up force of nature.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Best CDs of 2014... Number 14

What a dolt I am! I forgot one. Not until I was rummaging around in my CDs (after HRH Olive the Pug knocked a few over) did I remember this recording that I planned to add to my list. I can't very well knock one off  the list after publishing it, so I will just do this supplement and add #14 to the list:

Darius Milhaud The Oresteia of Aeschylus: Agamemnon, Les choëphores, Les euménides
University of Michigan Percussion Ensemble, University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, University of  Michigan Choral Union, Kenneth Kiesler, Conductor
Naxos 660349 3 discs

A long time ago, a strange LP of a strange sounding work "Les choëphores" caught my eye. Even though conducted by the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein, it was only available as a "Columbia Special Products" LP and thus really hard to get. My local record store tried and was told it did not exist. It finally made an appearance on CD a few years ago and I picked up a copy, but it soon disappeared from the catalog. I didn't know about the Markevitch version that was on DG occasionally. My curiosity was only partly satisfied, what about the rest of the trilogy? All the years of not being able to get it made me so damn curious about it.. you know what it is like when you can't have something.... it makes it all the more intriguing.

Finally, here it is in all its. Strange, percussive, fascinating, dramatic, violent and in-your-face glory. Great sound, great performances (the Markevitch "Les chöephores" is better than the Bernstein and in some ways better than this performance, if you want to explore them) and great fun. But good grief, NO TEXTS. What a shame, but still a landmark recording.

I should be shot for forgetting this!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Baker's Dozen Best Recordings 2014

Well! Here we are again. It is time to reflect on the past 12 months, review the defining events of 2014, recall celebrities who have passed away and of course the best of this and that. I concentrate on the latter, leaving the obits and news analysis to the talking heads of the TV. So yes, the best recordings of 2014 list is here. As usual, since the list is mine, I make the rules. These are not always brand new recordings, sometimes they are ones I heard for the first time in 2014 or dusted off my shelf. No pop or jazz, since that is not really my thing, and I am sure I have missed some “blockbusters” because the artists or repertoire were not of interest to me. No “Dude” or Sir Simon Le Rat (sic) or other “big names” recording more Mahler or whatever they are into now. You are more likely to find recordings of Havergal Brian (none this year though) or Morton Feldman (one this time around) than Bach, Beethoven or Brahms. So with all that, here are my baker's dozen favorite recordings, as usual listed in no particular order.
Britten: Works for String Orchestra Camerata Nordica, Terje Tonnesen, Director
BIS 2060

Britten tuned 100 in 2013 and of course big box releases were plentiful. With all the big guns firing, this 2013 release escaped me until this year. I have been slow to appreciate all of Britten's works; the “War Requiem”, “Peter Grimes” and “Sinfonia da Requiem” are givens, but much of his work long has baffled or left me cold. But this charming, well performed and enlightening disc opened the string orchestra works to my enjoyment. There is nothing “simple” about the “Simple Symphony”, the Bridge Variations is a masterpiece and Lachrymae is simply beyond description. Get this disc.
Yevhen (Yeven or Evgeny) Stankovych (Stankovich): Symphonies 1, 2 and 4 Theodore Kuchar, Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra
Naxos 8555741

These are actually 1995 Marco Polo recordings re-released on Naxos. I enjoy exploring the vast unknown of 20th century Russian/Soviet Bloc music. A lot of junk was produced (even by the big names) but there are many, many jewels buried in the trash heap. Ukrainian Yevhen Stankovych (seemingly the preferred spelling) is prolific yet lyrical, dramatic and listenable. Unlike many, the ghost of Shostakovich and Prokofiev is not overwhelming, but still always there. One of the jewels hidden in the pile.

Brahms and Schumann Piano Quintets Joyce Yang, Piano/Alexander String Quartet
Foghorn Classics FCL2014

The talented Alexanders and brilliant Joyce Yang take on two towers of 19th century chamber music, the Brahms Piano Quintet in f Op 34 and the Schumann Piano Quintet in Eb op 44. Frankly any recording that elicits a positive comment about Brahms from me is worth noting. No stodgy, elegant (read dull and technical) readings here, these are gutsy, lively, exciting and maybe even a bit edgy performances. Excellent production, including concise yet informative notes.

Bartók And Kodály Complete String Quartets Alexander String Quartet
Foghorn Classics FCL2009 (3 discs)

While we have the excellent Alexanders in front of us, mention must be made of this always intelligent, intense, musical, satisfying and well recorded set. Add this to the list of recordings that challenge and maybe surpass the classic Julliard recording of the Bartók cycle. Combine the fine and less well known Kodály quartets and you have a special release indeed.

Troubadour Blue: Nils Bultmann Works for Viola. Nils Bultmann, Hank Dutt violas, Parry Karp cello, Stephen Kent, didjeridu.
Innova 851

Thanks to I Care if You Listen and my fellow contributor Jarrett Goodchild, I had the notion to listen to this disc of works by San Francisco based composer/violist Nils Bultmann. Bultmann is one of the rare composers who can open your ear while not assaulting it, his music is tonal but inventive, rhythmic and visceral. The works on this recordings will both challenge and please. One simply has to hear “From the Depths” an imaginative and strikingly beautiful set of duos for viola and didjeridu and the “10 Viola Duets” for 2 violas are as often amusing as they are fascinating.

Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center: Music by Babbit, Arel, Davidovsky, Luening, El-Dabh, Ussachevsky.
Columbia/Sony 3268 (Available as an ArchivMusic on demand CD)

I remember this recording, released in 1964, from my teen years as I explored classical music. I don't think I ever owned a copy, but heard it at the library where probably most of the copies ended up. But it, along with other trail blazing recordings, led me to daydream about being an electronic music composer, which of course did not come to pass. This disc was on the cutting edge of the avant garde in the 60's, but now we giggle at the almost absurd series of bleeps, buzzes, warbles and squeals that comprise the works' electronic elements. The big names of the early electronic era are here and the compositions are representative of their time.... 50 years ago... seems like yesterday. Nostalgia for the radicals out there.

American Masters: Violin Works by Mason Bates, John Corigliano and Samuel Barber. Anne Akiko Meyers, Violin, Leonard Slatkin London Symphony Orchestra
eOne 7791

Three works for violin and orchestra from three American masters who share much more than is obvious. Barber (Violin Concerto 1939) was a mentor to Corigliano (Lullaby for Natalie 2010) who was Mason Bates' (Concerto for Violin “Archeopteryx” 2012) teacher. I reviewed this disc for I Care if You Listen in November and frankly I think I was too hard on the Bates Concerto. Further listening reveals a finely crafted, tuneful work that fits and compliments the other two works. The Barber is an utter masterpiece so maybe the others pale in comparison, but in that case, so do many others. Fine, fine recording. A keeper for sure.

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski: The Complete Oehms Classics Recordings. Music of Bruckner Brahms, Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann, Skrowaczewski and others.  Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Bavarian Radio Chorus,  Saarbrücken Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Oehms Classics 90

The great Stanislaw Skrowaczweski turned 90 in 2013 and Oehms released this wonderful set of his recordings for them late last year. Complete Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner and Schumann Symphonies plus some Bartok, Berlioz, the two Chopin Piano Concerti and some of Skrowaczewski's own excellent compositions. I first heard him when he was the Music Director at Minnesota and always find his performances suave, exciting and musical. My conducting god, I drove 4 hours one way to hear him do Bruckner 8 and would do it again in a heartbeat. Lucky the performance here is first rate so I can stay in tonight.

Organ Polychrome: The French School. Jan Kraybill, Organ. Casavant Organ, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, MO                                         Reference Recordings RR133

A hallmark of a great concert hall is a great organ. Not used every day, but when a work requires an organ it is nice to have one around. The Casavant here is a fine “symphonic” organ and blends well with the orchestra. As a solo it is a fine instrument, especially under the control of Jan Kraybill, who oversees it and two other wonderful organs in Kansas City. Great, idiomatic performances of many of the French masters, including Widor (thankfully not the overdone “Toccata”), Vierne, Gigout, Guilmant, Franck, Alain... et al. Lease breaking sonics to boot.

Morton Feldman String Quartet #1, Three Pieces for String Quartet, Structures for String Quartet. Flux String Quartet                                                                               Mode 269 3 discs and DVD

At a mere 90 minutes instead of the 6 hours required for String Quartet # 2, # 1 is a trifle. But what a trifle; serene, glowing, glacial, energetic, softly ringing.... one incredible sound after another. Feldman is an acquired taste, but like that of scotch, anchovies or whatever... it is worth it for those in the know. The recording perfectly captures all the subtle changes in dynamics and harmonics. The DVD allows you to hear the whole quartet without interruption. Three Pieces and Structures are also vintage Feldman and are much, much shorter. It is a cold, misty dark December evening as I write this... I think I will pull this disc out... it fits.

Miraculous Metamorphoses: Bartok, Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Prokofiev, Love for Three Oranges Suite, Hindemith, Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern. 
Reference Recordings RR132

Performances that can stand with the best of them and sonics that sound fabulous even on my computer speakers combine for another Reference Recordings/Kansas City Symphony “hit”. One also has to give the Kansas City Symphony, Reference Recordings and all involved great credit for daring to record major standard repertoire pieces that often have some very heady competition.

Shostakovich Symphony # 14 (1969) Gal James, Soprano, Alexander Vinogradov Bass Vasily Petrenko Royal Liverpool Philharmonic                                                         Naxos 8.573132

Overall, an excellent performance but I still can not live without the Barshai led performances with Vishnevskaya/Reshetin or with Simoni/Vaneev in the Cologne recording. Barshai was there at the beginning and had the music in his veins. The Curtin/Estes Ormandy is a sentimental favorite, with some of the most impressively ghoulish cover art ever devised. I thought the Liverpool strings were a bit weak and James less impressive than Vinogradov, but other critics disagreed. Overall a fine addition to the Shostakovich canon.

Shostakovich Symphony # 13 “Babi Yar” Alexander Vinogradov, Bass, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Chorus                                                                               Naxos 8.573218 

If the 14th was a fine recording, then the powerful 13th was perfection. Vinogradov is dark, brooding, frightening and frightened with deep voice that is still clarion clear. The chorus is not as idiomatic as a fine Russian ensemble, but is clear and present, well blended with the other forces. This is also one recording that does not let down after the long and dramatic first movement, the other four are equal in their drama and pathos. Great performance and a fitting end to a fine cycle. Petrenko is just 38 so he may yet have an even finer cycle in store some day.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Terrain of the Heart, Song Cycles of Mark Abel

“Terrain of the Heart”
Song Cycles of Mark Abel

Jamie Chamberlin, Soprano
Ariel Pisturino, Soprano
Victoria Kirsch, Piano

Delos 3438

Look around the rock music world of New York City in the late 70's and you would likely run into a fellow named Mark Abel. He might be leading a group he created, making a record with another or maybe producing an album or two. Originally from Connecticut, Abel had studied music in California before heading back to the east coast. He returned to the Bay Area in 1983, not to produce music but to work in news journalism, eventually becoming Foreign Editor of the respected San Francisco Chronicle. Musically, during his two decades in journalism, Abel moved away from rock and pop and began to explore classical forms and concepts becoming especially focused on solo vocal music. Thus Abel melds his experience in classical, rock and song writing music into songs that are sophisticated, accessible, original and tuneful.

An accomplished writer, Abel often writes his own texts for his songs. “Terrain of the Heart” showcases three of Abel's song cycles, two of which are settings of his own text. “The Dark Eyed Chameleon” and “Rainbow Songs” use his own poetry. “Five Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke” obviously set poems by the Bohemian novelist-poet.

Musically, nothing in these three cycles would be out of place in a contemporary musical. Frequently tonally ambiguous, and contemporary in sound, they are nonetheless well crafted, emotionally complex and engaging lyric songs in the truest sense of the form.

At nearly a half hour, “ The Dark Eyed Chameleon” (2007) is the most substantial and most emotionally affecting of the three song cycles. The nearly half hour cycle tells the tale of the composer's painful break up of a long term relationship. Hints of past tragedy and loss, misunderstandings, longing, realizing the inevitable (“underneath us the ground is always shifting, unstable like our California”) and the final break (The fatal blow is struck by telephone..) permeate the lyrics to the five songs. Very theatrical in nature, “Chameleon” could be envisioned as a one actor play, but Abel's accompanying music, alternatively wistful, agonized and even confused, propels the story forward as much as the lyrics. Soprano Jamie Chamberlin, along with pianist Victoria Kirsch totally understand and are committed to the work. Chamberlin negotiates the many chromatic leaps and rapid changes of emotion and texture. Kirsch is a sensitive yet propulsive accompanist and a full partner in telling the story.

For the “Five Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke” (2004) Ariel Pisturino, soprano, takes over the vocal duties. Pisturino is gifted with a big, but clear and slightly bright voice that perfectly suits the darkly expressive poetry. Her's is a voice tailor made for art song. Of the three cycles, “Five Poems” is the most “classical” influenced, more adventurous and flexible in tempi and dynamics, befitting the more hauntingly symbolic nature of the lyrics. “In this town the last house stands” is shaded and ultimately enigmatic, the vocal lines lyrical but unsettled at the same time. The longest of the five songs, “All of you undisturbed cities” is punctuated with relentless ostinati over which Pisturino weaves the jagged melodic line, laced with impending doom. In the remaining songs,“My life is not this steeply sloping hour”,“You darkness, that I come from” and “I live my life in growing orbits”, Abel's stark and expressionistic music works in tandem with the often mysterious poetry to deliver a most satisfying yet challenging musical experience. “Five Poems” is certainly a fine addition to the song repertoire and worth repeated hearings in recordings and in recitals or concerts.

Chamberlin returns with her lighter voice (should I say less “operatic” and more “Broadway” voice and start that whole argument??) in the final four “Rainbow Songs”. More light hearted and fanciful than the other cycles, “Rainbow” could be dismissed as fluff and nothing new but for the colorful and atmospheric “La Sonnambula”, depicting a woman wandering through desolate streets looking for her lover, but doomed to never find him. “La Sonnambula” is a touch more sophisticated than many of the other songs, growing in drama, dynamics and lyrical intensity from a shadowy figure in the piano. To my ears, it is the single most effective song on the disc.

Abel's music in each of the cycles is highly chromatic and linear, the linearity and incessant forward motion showing the formidable influences of the composer's rock music roots. While appropriate to the lyrics, which, with the exception of the Rilke songs, are also rock influenced and linear in nature, the chromatic and declamatory sound world can lead to a numbing sameness if one listens to the whole 73 minute CD in one sitting. Probably best to get into this music by listening to one cycle at a time.

Delos' notes and bios are of their usual high standard as is the stellar sound engineering. There is frequently a lot going on in the songs, lyrically and musically, so the close and somewhat dry sound works well to keep everything clear. Mark Abel's website ( has perusal scores for all the songs for those wanting to follow along.

Perhaps this music is more influenced by Sondheim than Schubert, but that was not the composer's intention. Put all that aside, and listen to some fine, easily approachable and frequently satisfying songs.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Kansas City Symphony Verdi Requiem

The May 30 through June 1 performances of the Verdi Requiem could be summarized as “redemptive”, not just for the departed soul but for the Kansas City Symphony and Chorus, led by Music Director Michael Stern. The symphony's last performance of Verdi's 1874 masterpiece in May 2008 was problematic to be kind; the main culprits being the chorus and the totally unenthusiastic soloists. The performance was leaden, loud rather than powerful and overall disappointing. This time around in the much friendlier and spacious Helzberg Hall, a rejuvenated chorus, a seasoned orchestra and more committed soloists combined for a powerful, expressive performance.

The chorus has, in my experience, never made a more subtly expressive entrance than that of the opening, practically whispered “Requiem”. Clear, perfectly balanced, quietly powerful with excellent diction, it set the tone for the rest of the work. Most impressive was their brisk and precisely executed “Sanctus” a wickedly complex eight part fugue for double chorus. Diction was excellent throughout, despite the sheer size of the chorus, something that is not always the case. One could easily make out the Latin and if anyone was not clear of the meaning, the translations were available on a screen high above the stage.

The solo quartet was 1000% (sic) better than those in the 2008 performances. Tenor Dimitri Pittas was strong and lyrical (giving a very fine reading of the “Ingemisco” section of the “Dies Irae”) but a bit strained at times and not always able to float above the fray. Bass Jordan Bisch possessed a dark but slightly unwieldy voice and seemed a bit tentative at times. Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano, was quite fine with a clear yet burnished tone. The star of the quartet, soprano Amber Wagner dug into her many long solos with gusto and with resigned sweetness when needed. She alone could consistently float over the huge forces. Mumford and Wagner were superb in the “Agnus Dei” (in my opinion the most moving and sublime of all the sections of the work), sweetly blended and perfectly together, the chorus equally well integrated with the solo lines.

Stern kept the performance moving, critical in the long, episodic Dies Irae section. He viewed the work not as “Verdi's greatest opera” but as a powerful statement of the awe and fear present in the liturgy of the requiem mass. The orchestra sometimes plays second fiddle to the vocalists, but in every moment the excellent ensemble work, singing tone and steady rhythm of the orchestra provided a firm foundation for the text and drama. The stunning bass drum blows in the “Dies Irae” were powerful and resonant, whereas they can often be a muddy thud.

Much of this season has been devoted to encore performances of past seasons' favorites, re-imagined for the new concert hall. If a work ever needed a second chance it was the Verdi Requiem. It got that chance, and we were richly rewarded for it.