BERLIOZ Requiem (Falletta)
The ideal way to take in the wonders of the Berlioz Requiem is to attend a performance in a concert hall or church, where the work’s massive forces – including four brass choirs strategically placed – can be heard in all their jolting and subtle glory. But the score also makes its transcendent impact felt via recording, as in this affecting and bold account under the baton of JoAnn Falletta. The performance was captured during a concert at the Virginia Arts Festival in May 2017 at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk featuring the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, The Choral Arts Society of Washington and tenor Robert McPherson.
Falletta, the orchestra’s music director, makes sure the score’s fervent pages receive full, dramatic justice. When the brass choirs and timpani make their first entrance in the ‘Dies irae’, you feel the earth tremble. Other moments throughout the Requiem receive similarly intense treatment. But what is most striking about the performance is Falletta’s attention to Berlioz’s reflective writing. The hushed passages in ‘Quid sum miser’ – tenors alternating with cor anglais and bassoons – are beautifully gauged. Elsewhere, as in the a cappella lines of ‘Quaerens me’, Falletta provides ample space for the choristers to convey the message of hope.
The interpretation is at once refined and sonorous, with the expanded Virginia Symphony making vivid contributions and the combined choruses expertly balanced and blended. McPherson sings the challenging tenor lines in the Sanctus with tender urgency. The audience in Chrysler Hall gives the performers a rousing reception at the end. Anyone listening via speakers and ear buds might be tempted to do the same.