Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cantori New York - Fauré - 06/16/12

Artistic Director & Conductor: Mark Shapiro
Fauré: Requiem in D Minor, Op. 48
Meredith Lustig: Soprano
Erik Downs: Bass
Wiliam Trafka: Organ

Of all the various circumstances in which I had been attending performances until yesterday, nothing had ever been as unusual as (kind of) crashing the memorial service of a total stranger. But it happened less than 48 hours ago, when Cantori New York was the hired chorus to perform Fauré’s Requiem and I was offered to discreetly tag along in the historic St. Bartholomew’s Church, a huge byzantine place of worship proudly standing near Grand Central, in that non-exotic foreign land that is the Upper East Side (aka the other side).
So there I was, quietly sitting among a large group of people whom I had never met in my life and who were all obviously connected among themselves in some capacity. I was ready to pull out my “I’m with the band (err, I mean, the chorus)” card if any questions were asked, but that was not necessary. Soon everybody settled down and got ready to hear Fauré’s Requiem interspersed by testimonies about the life of Joan Harding King, by all accounts, a truly remarkable woman who happened to love choral music.

Although my two favorite requiems are the ones composed by Mozart, for sheer magnificence, and Verdi, for operatic breadth, I had always been curious about Fauré’s alleged serene beauty. And yesterday afternoon, as I was happily listening to the flowing voices of the singers and the solemn sounds of the organ, I was indeed struck by the peaceful view of death that was being expressed, all French delicacy and none of that Teutonic grandeur or Italian passion. Fear, anger and gloom were no longer present, and death appeared more like a welcome liberation than the dreaded final end. Consequently, what was lost in gripping intensity (Where was my beloved hair-raising Dies Irae?) was gained in spiritual grace, and the whole concert became one blissfully soothing journey, religious devotion not required.
The acoustics were surprisingly good for such a relatively small group in such a large space, and the audience mostly attentive, except maybe for the woman who was filing her nails behind me during one of the tributes (Don’t you just hate it when that happens to you too, and you simply MUST file your nails during a memorial service?). The absence of orchestra allowed for a better focus on the unwaveringly committed, skillfully textured singing from the chorus and the two noteworthy soloists, and the couple of planned interruptions were quickly overlooked once the music started again. All in all, a much rewarding, if definitely atypical, experience.

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