Verdi’s “Requiem” received a stellar performance by the Oregon Symphony and forces at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday, March 10. The combined effort of soloists, choirs, and orchestra under the baton of Music Director Carlos Kalmar unleashed a tremendously emotional experience that superbly embodied the meaning and power of the music. Even though the projected titles did not appear and no printed text was available in the program, the nearly packed house relished the committed and thoroughly engrossing performance that will remain etched in the memories of listeners.
Soprano Amber Wagner, mezzo-soprano Dana Beth Miller, tenor Dimitri Pittas, and bass Raymond Aceto went above and beyond with voices that soared – even over and beyond the triple fortissimos of the combined forces layered behind them. Yet they maintained a beautiful sound throughout with vibratos that stayed inbounds, and they added to the dramatic effect by stepping forward and singing a number of arias from memory.
Each soloist excelled individually but also in ensemble numbers, which was quite remarkable with the resonant yet emotive qualities of Wagner, Miller, Pittas, and Aceto balancing consistently throughout the evening. Considering the Schnitzer’s acoustical challenges for voices in the lower range, Miller, in particular poured out enough tonal beauty and volume to equal her colleagues, creating stunning moments, such as in the “Liber scriptus proferetur” (A written book will be brought forth”). Wagner, it should be noted, held a note so long, during the Offertoiro, that one began to worry that she might never inhale again. Yet, she made it look easy peasy. Pittas exuded a marvelous tenor line and Aceto laid out a resonating bass that could be felt in the last row of the upper balcony.
The Portland Symphonic Choir and University of Puget sound Adelphian Concert Choir, expertly prepared by Steven Zopfi, delivered an awesome performance. The diction and balance of the combined choruses was impressive right from the start with the words “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” (“Grant them eternal rest, O Lord”) and especially crystal clear in the a cappella passages, such as the “Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion” (“A hymn in Zion befits you, O God”). The singers also left everyone on the stage floor with a devastatingly volcanic “Dies irae” (“Day of wrath”) and “Rex tremendae majestatis” (“King of dreadful majesty”) that could have been heard in Clackamas County. And, wow, the “Sanctus” sparkled like angles flying about.
The orchestra, urged on by Kalmar, accompanied the vocal forces expertly, giving everyone goosebumps with the passages that spiraled downward or upward, evoking flames, judgement on the last day, angels, devils, triumph, and agony in unrelenting sonic waves. The trumpets on stage and in the balcony, along with the magnificent brass, including the exotic-looking cimbasso played by JáTik Clark, threatened to shake the rafters. During the most demonstrative moments the bass drum in the percussion battery was pummeled so hard that it looked as if it would bounce onto the stage. Yet there were quiet moments, such as during the “Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?” (“What can a wretch like me say?”) when the bassoon of Evan Kuhlmann created a plaintive lament.
Kalmar usually wields a conducting style that is animated and inspired, but in the performance, he seemed take things to a higher level. It was as if he were conducting as if his life depended on it, and that got everyone to perform as if their lives depended on the outcome as well. The cutoffs that he signaled were breathtakingly effective. No one in the hall coughed or dared to breathe after a cutoff took place. It was as if the entire hall was transfixed in a mind meld. That might sound frightening, but at the conclusion of the concert, it became a life-enhancing experience.