Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Messa da Requiem of Giuseppe Verdi, first performed in Milan’s San Marco Cathedral on May 22, 1874 under the direction of Maestro Verdi himself was performed again on Friday, March 16, 2012 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, CT. I say “again” not to imply that it has laid dormant and unperformed in the one hundred thirty-eight years since its premier but to note that it has been performed at least once before in the same Hartford venue with performers from the Hartt School. The previous time was in 1973, I believe, when it was conducted by Moshe Paranov, the co-founder of Hartt, with an all Hartt School cast except for a soloist or two. Those who remember Moshe will also remember that he was constantly pulling together performances whose quality surprised even his biggest fans. The one he pulled off in the spring of 1973 was one of his most successful.

But even that one has to bow before the performance conducted by Ed Bolkovac, the Primrose Fuller Professor and Division Director of Choral Music at Hartt, two evenings ago. The performers included the Hartford Symphony, the Hartford Chorale, the New Haven Chorale, several of the Hartt Choruses and the Choir of the Cathedral of St. Joseph plus four distinguished soloists, all of them totaling, I am informed, well over five hundred singers plus the full complement of the HSO. The cathedral itself was packed with a most appreciative audience of approximately two thousand attentive music lovers.

And here’s the point of this blog: a funny thing happened on the way to this dynamic performance. The total number of performers, their disposition from the rear of the sanctuary to beyond the altar rail at the front of the church, especially the soloists who were way out front, plus the presence of all the members of the audience actually calmed and quieted way down the over-echoing effect of this huge, gorgeous stone and glass building and allowed everyone to hear the singers, even and especially the soloists, who in the grand tradition of opera, cantata and requiem performances, sang totally without electronic amplification. (Wow! That’s a long sentence) This is probably close to a first in that magnificent but often acoustically troubling concert site.

I’ve always believed that St. Joe’s, like many of its sister cathedrals in Europe, is a consummate choice for performing a Gregorian Chant Mass with a choir approaching seventy or eighty members; or, any single voiced choir, female, male or children provided they all sing the same part and don’t add a second one. As soon as a second part is added, musical chaos often follows. But not on Friday last.

Bravi to all the maestros who prepared the orchestra and the singers! Bravi also to all the performers as well as the institutions which so carefully the calculated the performance and auditory risks and prevailed. Well done, folks. Hip-hip! Here’s hoping there will be more of these concerts.

P.S. More on the terrific soloists in another post soon.

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