Review: ISO presents Mozart's Requiem

Guest conductor Matthew Halls

What is religious music? Well, if there is singing and you

can hear the words "Requiem," "Kyrie, "Benedictus" and "Agnus Dei" and the

music sounds sort of religious, you can most likely draw an accurate conclusion.  But if the work is

all orchestral and is cast in a modern idiom, it is rather difficult to tell

without a program. The nearly packed Circle Theatre had both examples in the

second ISO Friday classical program (repeated Saturday).

Mozart's Requiem

in D Minor, K. 626

was his last major work (1791), which he didn't live to

complete, and is one of the more often presented in the species of large-scale

religious repertoire. British guest conductor Matthew Halls made his ISO debut

with the 55 minute Requiem, and

introduced it with Olivier Messiaen's 28-minute L'Ascension for Orchestra (1933).  Let's start with the Messiaen.

Most famous for his organ writing and for his Quartet for the End of Time, Messiaen

recast his orchestral L'Ascension for

solo organ in 1934, and therein it found its greatest popularity.  Yet the

not-often-played orchestral version--both of them dealing with the resurrected

Christ's ascension into Heaven--offers some unusual timbre variations which can

be enjoyed without any religious connotation. 

For instance, its first of four sections, "Majesty of

Christ," is written for all brass and winds alone.  But we couldn't hear the winds which

cannot compete with a bevy of trumpets, trombones and horns playing constantly

and loudly.  The

second section, "Serene Hallelujahs," adds the strings, along with some bird

calls (which became popular to emulate in many early 20th century works). 

L'Ascension's final section, "Prayer of Christ," is written

solely for strings.  Throughout

the piece, Messiaen weaves his way through pastel harmonies blended with common

chords.  Halls

took solid command of this work, drawing the best possible playing from all the

orchestral choirs--which made it worth hearing.

Of course the Requiem

featured Eric Stark's Indianapolis Symphonic Choir -- and four vocal soloists:

soprano Yulia van Doren, alto Meg Bragle, tenor Lawrence Wilford and bass

Nathan Berg.  Halls

chose his favored completion of the Requiem, that of Mozart's then current

pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr. 

Stark used 170 voices for his choir, which occasionally

overpowered the soloists. 

I had the feeling that Bragle may have had the best voice of the

four, but it was difficult to hear her in the clear.

From the "Requiem" through the "Kyrie," the "Sequence,"

including five sub-parts, the "Offertorium," the "Sanctus," "Benedictus," "Agnus

Dei" and finally the "Communion," we heard lofty music beautifully played and

sung.  The only

section that Süssmayr definitely could not have written is the "Tuba Mirum" --

featuring principal trombonist James Beckel -- writing which looks briefly back

to the sublime style heard in Mozart's slightly earlier opera, The Magic Flute (also 1791).

Halls made a sufficiently good account of himself such as to

warrant his reengagement as soon as practicable. Oct. 10; Hilbert Circle Theatre


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