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Seen and Heard Festival Review

 

Aspen Music Festival (XV) Closing Concert: Verdiís Requiem (HS)

 

There's nothing quite like a Verdi Requiem to close out a music festival, especially when it has the sweep and power generated under the baton of David Zinman by a solid team of soloists, the Aspen Festival Orchestra and the visiting Colorado Symphony Chorus from Denver. The massive forces provide the sense of occasion that puts a cap on the proceedings.

 

Was it a great performance? Not quite. Mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe was the only one of the four soloists who crafted a performance of unalloyed splendor. The chorus sounded great at times but the altos and tenors tended to muddy the texture, especially in the dance-like Sanctus. The Tuba mirum, with extra trumpets flanking the audience for a dazzling ping-pong effect, suffered from sloppy articulation by the extras.

 

Other than those and similar nagging details, Zinman and the assembled forces whipped up the unmatched drama Verdi packed into this score. The Dies irae, which recurs to remind listeners of what awaits those who don't hew the line, practically exploded from the stage. The team of soloists seemed genuinely interested in what the others were singing, and they invested their lines of the text with the meanings intended. As Mors stupebit was passed around from singer to singer, for example, each one seemed to be personally admonishing the audience, injecting even more theater.

 

Soprano Lisa Daltirus, who wowed the Aspen audience last year filling in as Tosca for Carol Vaness at the last minute, made a strong return in this Requiem. She strained for a few high notes, but mostly bathed Verdi's soaring melodies with rich, creamy sound. She was especially effective in her interjections of Salva me against the powerful line in the Rex tremendae. Her duets with Blythe had special allure, especially the Agnus Dei.

 

Blythe simply did everything a mezzo can do in this music. Displaying a powerful low register and gleaming high notes, she brought out all sorts of unexpected details in her lines. She could caress a long line, as she did in a gorgeous Lacrymosa, or put the fear of God into a listener, as in the first Dies irae. She could penetrate any density of orchestral sound, yet make her voice float in unaccompanied or lightly accompanied sections.

 

The men fared less impressively, but they managed. Tenor Philip Webb got all his notes, although he strained at the high range and never made much of the tenor's big shining moment, the Ingemisco. Bass Morris Robinson gave his lines the weight they deserved, overcoming some early unsteadiness.

 

But in the end, the sheer momentum of Verdi's remarkable creation, shepherded by Zinman, did what it does so well. The final Libera me, with Daltirus caressing its extended soprano solo around a final iteration of the Dies irae, brought things to a calm and restful close.

 

Harvey Steiman



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