Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: Richmond Symphony

with soloists, Richmond Symphony Chorus
Steven Smith conducting
Oct. 19, Richmond CenterStage

Like certain locusts, the Verdi Requiem arrives every seven years or so on Richmond Symphony programs. This year, there’s also the anniversary factor: 2013 is the bicentenary of Verdi’s birth. The Requiem has been treated to a variety of interpretations over the years, but performances have been remarkably consistent in quality.

A concert chorus rarely gets to be more dramatic than in this piece, and there’s no better concert showcase for Italianate operatic voices. This time around, the solo quartet – soprano Kelley Nassief, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein, tenor Marco Panuccio and bass Kevin Deas – proved to be unusually complementary, with Nassief and Feinstein producing especially fine duet-singing in several of the most emotionally potent sections of the Mass.

Deas, who performs frequently with this orchestra, was a sonorous if rather stoic presence; Panuccio contributed the most Italianate accents, singing with heated intensity even in the tenor’s most quiet passages.

Intense quiet was one of the most effective tones of voice in this choral performance. From the opening “Requiem” through the conclusion of the Mass, the Symphony Chorus created striking effects of shadowed tone and distance in its sotto voce singing. In louder and more turbulent passages, notably the recurrent Dies Irae, the choristers projected energy and passion, and demonstratred gratifying attention to detail in more complex sections.

Erin R. Freeman, who this season is dividing her time between the Richmond Symphony, where she is associate conductor and director of the Symphony Chorus, and a new post as director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, prepared the Richmonders well for the Verdi Requiem. She also sang with her charges in the weekend performances.

Steven Smith, the orchestra’s music director, showed an interesting sensibility in his first go at a major Italian score in four seasons in Richmond. Under his direction, this Requiem emphasized the lyrical, emotional and spiritual. The drama, in the Dies Irae and elsewhere, was not especially hard-edged.

A temperate Verdi Requiem? Relatively so, and surprisingly effective in its aversion to excess.