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Music review: Verdi's 'Requiem'

Choral Artists of Sarasota offer energetic, musically sensitive performance.

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  • | 10:15 p.m. April 23, 2017
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The Verdi Requiem and Mount Everest have something in common: each  is monumental and each is "There!” I don’t know of any performer alive who has not wanted to sing, conduct, or play this great work at some time or another, and like Everest, it is not for the faint of heart. Each is packed with challenges and dangers that lie in wait for the unsuspecting or unprepared.

On Sunday afternoon at the Sarasota Opera House, the Choral Artists of Sarasota (nee Gloria Musicae), the Master Chorale of Tampa, four able soloists and the Sarasota Orchestra, all prepared and conducted by Joseph Holt, were set and ready to scale the heights of this great masterpiece.

Danielle Talamantes
Danielle Talamantes

And scale it they did, with energy to spare.  These some 200 performers, onstage and in the pit, took advantage of the great karma of performing in “Verdi’s American Home,” the Sarasota Opera House, to absolutely raise the roof at least a foot or so, with both the performance and then the applause from the sold-out house.

Combining the professional singers of the Choral Artists of Sarasota with the semi-professional/community choral singers of the Master Chorale of Tampa, Joseph Holt presented a Verdi Requiem with singers with excellent  pitch and diction, combined with immense musicality from all. After a somewhat tentative start, the “Introit and Kyrie” came together and one could hear these musical forces join and blend in what became a most moving performance.  English text was shown above the stage so we were able to comprehend both emotion and understanding as the sections of the Requiem unfolded.

Blake Friedman
Blake Friedman

The massive “Dies Irae” or Day of Wrath landed with all the force and violence of Judgement Day in what seems to be a preview of the storm scene in the opening of Verdi’s “Otello,”  written some years later, and it was reprised again in the Requiem’s final section. While in the louder passages the chorus oversang just a bit (who wouldn’t with all that drama going on), the soft passages gave us that wonderful, lovely depth of sound that can only be accomplished by a large chorus singing well.

Most all of the pitfalls for chorus in this massive work were surmounted, especially with the steady rhythm and quick tempo in the notorious double fugue of the “Sanctus,” and the final ”Libera me” where many performances have foundered in its fugal passages.

Robyn Rocklein
Robyn Rocklein

The four soloists for the occasion were Danielle Talamantes, soprano, Robyn Rocklein, mezzo-soprano, Blake Friedman, tenor, and Kerry Wilkerson, bass. Verdi certainly favored the two female voices in his Requiem, giving them most of the vocal gems, with few exceptions. Both soprano Talamantes and mezzo Rocklein were up to the task, commanding  in all their solos and  ensembles. Talamantes’ lovely sound soared above the orchestra in the musical climaxes, and Rocklein was quite impressive throughout. Although their blend at the beginning of the “Agnus Dei” could have been warmer, these are two fine singers. Friedman gave his best in his “Ingemisco” solo, with a slightly stretched sound, but he more than held his own in the  trios and quartets. Wilkerson, more of a bass-baritone than bass, as called for by Verdi, seemed challenged by the lower range of his part, with a somewhat dry sound, but still sang with great drama.   

In the pit, the full Sarasota Orchestra again showed all the quality and versatility of this fine group. Its members had just played three pops concerts in two days, then massively switched gears to play the Verdi Requiem. Joseph Holt, in his six years as Artistic Director with Gloria Musicae/Choral Artists of Sarasota, has grown musically, both as interpreter and conductor, providing us with an energetic and musically sensitive performance, in which the orchestra never over balanced the singers and coalesced into an afternoon of excellent music making. More kudos for the arts in Sarasota.


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