Saturday, February 26, 2011

MTT conducts Mozart’s Requiem

MTT PosterWithout the orchestra, the stage at Davies Hall looked barren for the 1st half of this program, which fitted 20th century works with Mozart's Requiem. Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin conducted Mindaugas Urbaitis's Lacrimosa for a cappella chorus. It is tonal, chant-like & short. Melodic patterns in a triplet rhythm arise, repeat & overlap until they organically coalesce into the Lacrimosa of the Mozart Requiem. I did not know this would happen, & I found the effect eerie.

In his introductory remarks to Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel, MTT called the composer a "self-styled New York Jew Zen Master" & humorously imitated his heavy New York accent. He described the piece as sound evolving into notes, then notes evolving into melodies & harmonies. A tune that emerges at the end he called a "cross between Anton Webern & Duke Ellington." The piece recreates the experience of staring into a Rothko painting. I felt like I was trying to discern minute differences within a featureless void. Principal violist Jonathan Vinocour was a suave soloist, playing a repeated motif consisting of just a few long notes. It was a surprise when he suddenly burst into a fully melody, accompanied by the vibraphone. Mr. Vincour's tone was even & controlled, every note a discrete event. He changed locations on stage several times, adding a spatial dimension to the sound. Soprano Kiera Duffy was like a brief glimpse of light, singing with a pure & focused sound from the terrace. The piece was performed with theatrical lighting that faded into darkness at the end.

We had a large, hundred-plus chorus for the Requiem & a reduced orchestra in which individual string players sometimes dropped out. Even the brass was not allowed to play out. All 4 vocal soloists were wonderful. Ms. Duffy's sound is clear & smooth, & she communicates the words. Mezzo Sasha Cooke has a distinct, hall-filling voice that is thrilling. Tenor Bruce Sledge sounded very Mozartian, sweet & bright. Bass-baritone Nathan Berg has a commanding sound, metallic & hollow. His first entrance & his Tuba Mirum brought me to attention. The performance flowed evenly, without sharp edges or a sense of urgency. MTT made the Lacrimosa a major climax, emphasizing the break where Süssmayr takes over. The performance received a standing ovation. There were special cheers for the chorus.

I was fortunate to attend this sold-out concert as a guest of John Marcher. At our pre-concert dinner at The Grove, he proved himself a gallant gentleman when the lady next to him at our tightly packed table ended up on the floor instead of in her seat.

§ MTT conducts Mozart’s Requiem

San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Ragnar Bohlin, director

URBAITIS: Lacrimosa
Ragnar Bohlin, conducting

FELDMAN: Rothko Chapel
Kiera Duffy, soprano
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Jonathan Vinocour, viola
Jack Van Geem, percussion
David Herbert, timpani
Robin Sutherland, celesta

MOZART: Requiem in D minor, K.626 (completed by Franz Süssmayr)
Kiera Duffy, soprano
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Bruce Sledge, tenor
Nathan Berg, bass-baritone

Fri, Feb 25, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall


Immanuel Gilen said...

This is the concert I was most regretful about missing in the SFS's line-up this season. Your review seems to confirm it was quite a remarkable event; how long is Rothko Chapel?

Axel Feldheim said...

I wasn't checking my watch during the performance, but I would guess that the Rothko Chapel lasted around a half hour. Too bad you were not here this weekend. You could also have taken in the Vienna Phil & a Philip Glass opera.