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WSO joins forces with two choirs, four soloists for a night of fire and fury

Conductor Daniel Raskin led the WSO, CMU Festival Chorus and Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir Friday in the first of two performances of Verdi’s epic masterpiece, Requiem. (Supplied)</p>

Conductor Daniel Raskin led the WSO, CMU Festival Chorus and Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir Friday in the first of two performances of Verdi’s epic masterpiece, Requiem. (Supplied)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/3/2019 (441 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Fire and fury rained down upon the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Friday night when it presented the first of two weekend performances of Verdi’s epic masterpiece, Requiem, that both cajoles with the promise of everlasting light as well as thunders with the wrath of God.

Last staged here in April 2014, the 95-minute concert (no intermission) led by Daniel Raiskin featured an all-Canadian quartet of guest soloists: Lyne Fortin, soprano; Susan Platts, mezzo-soprano; David Pomeroy, tenor; and Alain Coulombe, bass. The CMU Festival Chorus combined forces with the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, prepared by Janet Brenneman and Yuri Klaz, respectively, totalling nearly 200 musicians onstage in all their glory and might.

Verdi originally composed his multi-sectioned musical setting of the Catholic funeral mass to mark the first anniversary of the death of Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni. Since its 1874 Milan première, it’s been taken to task for its unrepentant, over-the-top theatricality better suited to the grand opera house than the contrite cathedral, often violently swinging between heaven and hell itself that nonetheless results in a choral experience as delicious as that proverbial apple.

Raiskin’s sensitive direction that also infused the entire production with gravitas immediately set the stage for high drama, from the opening hushed Requiem chorus through to the dying moments of Libera Me, creating the overall sense we had traversed an aural landscape with many highlights along the way.

The highly acclaimed Fortin exuded natural dramatic flair, at its peak during finale Libera Me, in which she spat out her words praying for deliverance with declamatory zeal and trembled with emotion that gripped the imagination. This force of nature also displayed perfectly nuanced vocals, colouring her uppermost notes with the finely honed skill of a portrait painter with her penetrating soprano voice often soaring over the larger-scale orchestra and massed choir.

The Rolex-prize winning Platts brought darker flavour to each of her solo sections, albeit at times lacked the same vocal presence as the other powerhouse singers. However, her rendition of searing duet Recordare, as well as later Agnus Dei saw her warm vocals entwining with Fortin’s quickly became another highlight, as did her shimmering trio Lux aeterna sung with Pomeroy and Coulombe, in which their voices melded together particularly well during the a cappella ending.

Any listener may easily be forgiven thinking they had died and gone to heaven hearing Newfoundland native Pomeroy perform famous tenor solo Ingemisco. The deeply expressive singer often appearing on the Manitoba Opera stage imbues all his performances with noble compassion, pouring his heart and soul into this lyrical showstopper, including buttery-smooth phrasing and ringing top notes that enthralled.

Confutatis maledictis that immediately followed showcased Coulombe’s equally resonant vocals, grounding the quartet throughout and highlighted during his own solo Tuba Mirum, followed by a commanding, less-is-more Mors Stupebit in which the French-Canadian singer rumbles about the coming judgement day.

The choir, necessarily amplified due to the crippled, now decommissioned acoustical shell that used to flank the concert stage, was particularly strong during the Sanctus. It handled Verdi’s eight-part fugue arranged for double choir with aplomb, with each lightly executed entry crisp and clear, and delivered their sotto voce sections during the Dies Irae chorus (among others) with operatic bite.

And then there is the terrible Dies Irae chorus with a clearly impassioned Raiskin holding a taut rein over the entire ensemble with each repetition laced throughout the work only seeming to build in heart-stopping power. Kudos to principal percussionist Fred Liessens for his visceral bass drum strikes that punctuated the section and sent shock waves through the listeners – if not leaving us all limp (and doubtlessly penitent) in our seats.

Bravo also to the WSO brass players, and especially trumpets for their bright introduction to the Sanctus replete with double-tonguing effects, as well as the blazing fanfares that launch Tuba mirum.

As expected, the crowd of 1,147 leapt to its feet in a standing ovation with cheers of bravo. With the house that holds a capacity of 2,305 only factually half full, the WSO may wishtore-consider returning to a single performance as it did back in 2014 for its next incarnation of this choral juggernaut that one only hopes and prays will be staged again — and soon.

The concert was also held Saturday night.


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Updated on Sunday, March 17, 2019 at 9:45 AM CDT: Fixes date to April 2014, not March 2008.

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