Who knew that you could be "shocked" by "Joe Green"? I didn't. Luckily I hadn't read the L.A. Times rave review of the L.A. Master Chorale's seventh concert this season at the Disney Concert Hall. "Emotions Resound" was the title with an evocative picture of our conductor Grant Gershon and his mezzo-soprano soloist Eugenie Grunewald. It is an "electrically glowing" review of their handling of the famed Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi (Joe Green) I will not, here, review a review. I agreed with most of it and I think the concert I went to on Tuesday night benefitted from the Sunday night review. At the pre-concert lecture, when asked by Rich Caparella from K-Mozart fm 105, how he thought the concert went, Grant hedged a bit and said he was "greatly superstitious" and wouldn't comment except to say that this monumental piece was perfect for the Disney and its accoustics. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to do it with close to 200 "world class" musicians including the soloists.
At the lecture, which was really just a conversation about the highlights of the work, I also learned about the setting and motivation for this famous Requiem. It was composed and performed in Milan and San Marcos Cathedral in 1874 to commemorate the death of one of the 19th Century's best poet, novelist and political leader, Alessandro Manzoni. He was for the unification of Italy at the time as was Verdi. This was against the Catholic Church and Pope Gregory; not a popular position back then. You almost had to have a "passport" to go from city-state to city-state. Verdi was reported to be an "atheist" or at least an "agnostic" and that too was not good at the time. The common people so loved Verdi and this Requiem that at only the second performance at "La Scala" they stopped the show several times with thunderous ovations and demanded that a particular section ie. "Offertorio" be played again...Encore!" (in Italian)...and again before the piece could finish. Verdi was conducting and he was presented with a silver crown. These Italians really like their "operatic requiems". Grant shared that when he was just in high school, with no thought or ambition to be a conductor, the Verdi Requiem Score was the first one he bought..."just to study" and learn from the "master". Verdi's own colleagues at first dismissed it as just another one of his "operas"...until they truly heard it and listened to its sublime beauty and depth of meaning. Grant jokingly began rehearsal with the comment to his musicians that "this piece of music picks up where the operas leave off" At the end of most of Verdi's opera you have alot of "dead people" usually. This experience takes you to "where they feared to go" ...hell..."Dies Irae" and their hope and pleading to escape that.
This, for me, is where the "electrifying" comes in and continues to be brought back throughout the different sections. With a full orchestra, massive percussion (big bass drum) and a brass section to "die for" you are literally "shocked" and suddenly it is all around you from the heights of the concert hall's third balcony rails. It is rather unnerving. He certainly knew how to give you a "picture of what hell could sound like". (even though he didn't believe in it) Wow! ...and the pipe organ wasn't even turned on. Of course, what makes this happen is the contrasts from triple P to triple F and there was plenty of that. It starts with the chorale in just a whisper and it ends that way with the soprano soloist pleading "Libera Me" ...de morte aeterna. Very dramatic and effective.
I could go on and on with many more impressions that weren't in the published review. Notable to me (and Mr. Pasles, the reviewer) was the tenor soloist Stuart Neill and his interpretation as one of the "lost or dying souls". He looked to me alittle like a picture of Verdi himself, without a beard. ie. same wavy hair, very "Italiano" and he sang without any music (score)...yes had it all memorized. Do you know how difficult that is? Because of this, his eye contact and hand gestures were so much more personal and involving. (I'm a tenor too) Upon enter and exiting, several times for all the ovations, he, alone was interactive with the orchestra members, shaking their hands etc. The "Agnus Dei" duet was supposed to sound like a "gregorian chant" muscially but, for me, their overly vibrato-ed delivery got in the way. The double fugue was so perfect at the end and to me, it just went to illustrate the "lostness" of the "poor soul" pleading for mercy. The "Sanctus" which normally you expect to be "heavenly and ephemeral was circus like and right out of "Aida" without elephants...beautiful but not..."holy". My most exquisitely beautiful moment, acoustically and emotionally, was in the "Offertorio" after the descending arpegios of the chorale and the tenor's high and clear (falsetto) "Hostias et preces tibi"...just gorgious.
This time my favorite chorale singers to watch, were not anywhere near me being placed behind the orchestra and up the stairs. I watched, in "pain" as one of the "altos"(?) struggled, with help, up all those stairs from her wheelchair. She had to stop and rest serveral times. What a desire to sing and perform! No handicapped access for chorale members? My new favorite performer was a first violinist very near (maybe 10 feet away).(5th row, 1st chair) I watched her warm up, pertly sitting on the edge of her chair, practicing all the more difficult parts. She'd stop and survey the audience too....looking for a boy friend(?) maybe. She played with such concentration and rapped attention. She raised her bow with a flourish at the ends of appropriately grand phrases. She was so "into" her part in the orchestra's performance which was magnificent. At the end, on the third "recall bow" by the soloists, Stuart, the tenor, grabbed and shook her hand. She beautifully and graciously accepted his hand. A warm gesture of "love and acceptance"...the main message of the evening. This made the evening just about perfect for me. Bob!