In performance: The Washington Chorus
Wachner, Washington Chorus offer schizophrenic evening
by Alfred Thigpen
This wasn't the norm. Kennedy Center concerts do not typically feature two irreconcilably disparate halves sharing nothing in terms of interpretative quality. Yet Friday evening, Julian Wachner and the Washington Chorus and Orchestra crossed that line.
Mendelssohn's "Hebrides Overture" enjoyed a supple and vibrant reading by the orchestra. This nautical work led seamlessly into Marjorie Merryman's "Jonah," an artistic treasure, consummately interpreted and performed. Merryman's 1995 composition uses a deeply colorful orchestral palette and onomatopoeia to relate this ancient biblical account. Her varied use of dissonance is always purposeful, describing both the human condition and Jonah's defiance of God. The storm at sea is a violent fugue, and the leviathan (dyspeptic belly and all) is made incarnate with a solo tympani passage and eerily high string harmonics imitative of whale songs.
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Merryman's solo scoring rivals the lyricism of Benjamin Britten's and was aptly conveyed by tenor William Hite and baritone Sanford Sylvan, while the textual King James English in no way restricted the expressiveness of the chorus, which ran the gamut from kvetch to triumphant paean. [Note: the chorus recorded the work earlier in the week for release on an upcoming CD.]
Friday's Mozart "Requiem," however, was essentially a transcription. Mozart's intended choir consisted of several dozen men and boys, with an understated orchestra featuring gut strings and basset horns. One doesn't need to follow the letter of the law to do the piece well, but here, its spirit was pancaked with searing dynamics, NASCAR tempos and a compression of text that compromised its veracity. It was Wachner's prerogative. He knew his audience, after all, and Friday's standing ovation confirmed it.
-- Alfred Thigpen
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