St Cecilia Chorus – Verdi Requiem

Messa da Requiem

Valerie Bernhardt (soprano)
Monica Zerbe (mezzo-soprano)
Dan Snyder (tenor)
John Dominick (bass)

The Arcadian Chorale
Richmond Choral Society

St Cecilia Chorus and Orchestra
David Randolph

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 2 May, 2008
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

David RandolphHow do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice!” Or join one of the local choral societies that rent the auditorium periodically. For Verdi’s “Requiem” the smaller Arcadian Chorale and Richmond Choral Society (trained by Marina Alexander) joined the St Cecilia Chorus for an impressive total of some 250 singers. On the other hand the St Cecilia Orchestra, a group of professional freelance musicians, was sorely understaffed in the string section, which numbered only 34 players. Unfortunately, where the presenters have to cover all the expenses, too often there simply are not enough funds to afford a bigger section, even though the hall was filled almost to capacity.

However, one doesn’t attend a concert such as this expecting perfection, but to experience the joy of music-lovers coming together to perform. They had devoted countless weeks of rehearsal to this masterpiece. From the hushed opening ‘Requiem aeternam’ is was apparent that a lot of care had gone into preparing this work. The clarity of diction here and throughout the work, and the attention paid to detail, greatly enhanced the dramatic impact of the softer sections, perfectly balancing the visceral effect of the ‘Die Irae’ choruses. Overall the singing was precise, focused, and well-balanced.

David Randolph is known for the refinement of his choirs, and he brought out many beautiful details one often misses in more driven performances. A slight man, he exudes authority, effortlessly controlling his large forces without the use of a baton. The conductor of the St Cecilia chorus since 1965, Randolph is now 93 years old but he has lost little if any of his energy, preceding the performance with a short introduction to various melodic elements of Verdi’s “Requiem”, including a demonstration of the double Fugue of the ‘Sanctus’ where the theme was identified by the section-members singing it raising their hands.

Valerie Bernhardt’s light soprano has quite a beautiful timbre and she projected well for the most part; her solo with the a cappella chorus before the ‘Libera me’ was one of the highlights. One would have wished for more weight though, a more dramatic voice. Monica Zerbe had the volume and heft, but her uneven voice production and extremely sharp pitch made her singing very unpleasant. Dan Snyder had a warm, focused sound in the middle register, but his high notes were often forced, strained, and hampered by a tight vibrato. John Dominick started out sounding hollow and unfocused, but once he had warmed up his voice took on a pleasing richness and roundness. His ‘Tuba mirum’ was darkly chilling.

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