Review: Symphony triumphs with Requiem

Classical Notes reviewer Jim Elderton heralds the OSO's performance of Mozart's final work before he died: the lush and beautiful Requiem.

The Okanagan Symphony goes from strength to strength! Last weekend, for Remembrance Day, they performed Mozart’s Requiem at the Performing Arts Centre.

A huge choral work (four months in rehearsal) and a staggering success, it sold out an hour before showtime.

The orchestra, a chorus of 90, and four soloists all from B.C., Isaiah Bell (tenor), Alan Corbishley (baritone), Dana Luccock (mezzo soprano), and Vernon’s own Melina Moore (soprano), all took the stage.

Requiem was Mozart’s last work, written immediately after The Magic Flute. He died before its completion.

Because of the controversies surrounding its commissioning and completion, this became one of the most enigmatic concert pieces ever composed.

Film-goers will remember Amadeus, highlighting the young composer’s devastating effect on court composer Antonio Salieri. (Mozart, sick, overworked, and broke, had been manipulated by the jealous Salieri to compose and complete the requiem so that on Mozart’s death, Salieri would assume authorship and take the credit.)

But despite the film’s brilliance (eight Academy awards), and despite the use of Requiem, Peter Shaffer’s script was seriously flawed. It was based on misinformation from an earlier play, Mozart and Salieri, which later became an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov.

What baffles me is why the true story was ignored! The commissioning and completion of Requiem was equally dramatic, with historians arguing over what really happened. But in 1964, a first-hand account (written in 1839), was discovered, putting the record straight.

What is true is that Mozart died before the piece was finished.

On Sunday, music director Rosemary Thomson’s comment to me was: “Awe inspiring! Deeply moving, dramatic in its scope, full of desperate beauty. He knew he was dying.”

In effect, Mozart wrote his own requiem. He was only 35.

The piece is profoundly beautiful, certainly one of the most inspirational pieces in the choral repertoire.

One thing Amadeus did achieve was to make some of the music familiar, with five sections used.

The opening Introitus was wonderfully powerful, with Melina Moore taking the first solo. Followed by Kyrie eleison, with a spectacular finish by the chorus.

There were numerous powerful moments with the choir, such as the drama and power of Dies irae, Rex tremendae, Confutatis, Hostias, and Sanctus.

The Okanagan Symphony Chorus had come from throughout the Okanagan, from Vernon to Summerland, and they’d rehearsed weekly since July.

“I’ve never had such a rewarding experience with a conductor who knows so much about vocal production,” said chorus member Jo Jones. “With a less knowledgeable and demanding music director, this performance could have been a crazy quilt, instead of the beautiful tapestry it was.”

I was particularly impressed by the attacks at starts and finishes.

“Rosemary is totally focused, with a very strong vision of how it should be produced,” added Jones.

There was the rich blend of choir, orchestra and solo quartet in Domine Jesu, and the beautifully operatic Benedictus.

And lastly, there was the gorgeous Agnus Dei, the sadness of Communio and the wonderfully triumphant finish of Lux aeterna, with those magnificent final chords.

–– Jim Elderton is a local filmmaker and freelance classical music reviewer for The Morning Star.


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