Conductor: Marin Alsop
Rouse: Berceuse infinie
Mozart: Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
Benjamin Butterfield: Tenor
Michael Dean: Bass-baritone
Alisa Jordheim: Soprano
Diana Moore: Mezzo-soprano
University of Maryland Concert Choir
After an extremely satisfying concert by the National Symphony Orchestra with my friend Jennifer on Saturday night, I was getting mentally prepared for my concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with my friend Deborah and her friend Anne on Sunday afternoon. The program had the right balance of brand new with the world premiere of Baltimore-born Christopher Rouse’s “Berceuse Infinie”, which had been commissioned by the BSO, and quintessentially timeless with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s magnificent Requiem, which he famously did not get to finish, but has always been one of his biggest hits.
Although I had been a regular at the Strathmore Music Center before moving to New York City, I had not been back in quite a few years. Despite being warned that the surrounding area was not what it used to be, my heart still sank when I saw the big fancy condos that have been built in the beautiful park next to the building, where refreshing strolls were encouraged and a deer sighting not unusual.
But here again, for the second time in my eventful D.C. weekend, music came to the rescue and healed all my wounds in the packed concert hall, even before the concert started as maestra Alsop warmly welcome everybody with her signature red cuffs and quirky introductions. Thankfully some things do not change.
Marin Alsop may have confessed that eons ago she fell for Christopher Rouse’s music because it was so unapologetically loud, but the work that the orchestra was presenting last Sunday certainly was anything but. In fact, true to its title, for the most part his “Berceuse Infinie” (Infinite Lullaby) quietly unfolded with a gently rocking rhythm, which discreetly highlighted the soberly beautiful melodies, the delicately nuanced colors, the finely crafted textures, a couple of outstandingly dramatic moments, and a few stunning lines for the cello. At barely 15 minutes, this exquisite lullaby for adults inconspicuously made us lose the sense of time and did bring us a little bit closer to infinity.
Mozart’s Requiem never fails to attract large crowds in concert halls all over the world and last Sunday at Strathmore was no exception. And truth be said, the large crowd could not have been more mightily pleased with the exhilaratingly powerful performance that Marin Alsop got from the fired-up orchestra, the confident choir of young singers from the University of Maryland, and the four excellent soloists.
To add a new twist to my listening of the Requiem, and take full advantage of the perfectly balanced lighting in the hall, for the first time I decided to follow the entire piece on the lyric sheet as the music was going on, and quickly found the experience insightful and rewarding. Secure in my knowledge of the instrumental part, I was able to focus more on the words and therefore go up another notch in my already sky-high level of enjoyment of it.
On Sunday afternoon, the “Dies irae,” possibly the most popular movement of the entire composition, came out particularly muscular and, well, wrathful, soon followed by a gorgeously sad “Lacrimosa.” Of note were also the wonderful contrasts between the forceful assertiveness of the male voices in the “Confutatis” and the delicately ethereality of the female voices in the “Voca me.”
Throughout the performance the seasoned orchestra made the overly familiar piece sound fresh and exciting while the youthful choir made their palpable enthusiasm at tackling such a universal masterpiece crystal clear. Each of the four soloists fulfilled their parts with plenty of talent and commitment, adding strong individual voices to the larger ensembles. It was decidedly good to be back.