Robert McPherson (tenor); The Choral Arts Society of Washington; Virginia Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
Hampton Road Classics 011 76:38 mins
This concert was a major highlight of the Virginia Arts Festival, on America’s East Coast. Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s (VSO) director, JoAnn Falletta, is already celebrated both in the US and abroad. Conducting the Requiem for the first time, she makes a fine interpreter, characteristically dynamic but well aware that, for all its scale and spectacle, this isn’t as overtly dramatic as Verdi’s. Amid all the brass and choral thunders of the Rex Tremendae, the work’s real spirit is quietly contemplative, progressing from the pain of the Kyrie to the ultimate consolation of the Agnus Dei. Falletta brings this out beautifully not only in the sombre orchestral sonorities but equally in the complex choral textures, well sung here by the VSO Chorus (not as large as Berlioz’s original, but few are). Not that she underplays the brass effects, siting the antiphonal chorales around the hall as prescribed, with the tenor soloist in the Sanctus, it seems, somewhere ethereally above – though Robert McPherson sounds a touch light. Enjoyable as this must have been in the hall, on disc it faces formidable competition, in particular Colin Davis’s two versions and Paul McCreesh’s extraordinary recording with authentically huge forces. The Virginia recording just isn’t as immediate or as clear; less detailed in some high-lying choral passages especially.
Michael Scott Rohan