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Cantata Singers tackle Requiem with tonality

The Cantata Singers have always specialized in soul-searching repertory, but until now have passed on programming the most flamboyant of all such works, the Verdi Requiem. To schedule it, they had to audition new singers in order to add 40 fresh voices to their usual complement of 45.

The first performance last night sold out Jordan Hall and deserved the prolonged standing ovation it received. The chorus sang with imagination and dramatic involvement as it spanned the vast range of human responses to death. One or two rough moments apart, the orchestra also played with great expressive beauty, and for once the unison cello introduction to the ''Offertorium" was both together and in tune.

The interesting and impressive team of soloists was anchored, as so often before in local performances, by bass-baritone Robert Honeysucker. To the lordly, proclamatory, and steady tone of a trombone, he added the declamatory resources of a powerful preacher. Yeghishe Manucharyan drew a firm musical line with his lovely lyric tenor, singing with elegance and feeling and never letting fervor upset his equilibrium. Janna Baty is not an Italian dramatic mezzo and nothing less than that sound will do in her opening aria; once past that chore, Baty sang with a rich, viola-like tone and a rapturous, luminous lyricism. When Barbara Quintiliani's soprano is at its best, it smolders like molten gold; she has temperament, emotion, and an instinctive identification with the Verdi style going for her. Her voice continues to grow in size, but she is not yet in control of all its assets; when she loses her bright, forward placement, she also loses control of intonation and the pitch sags flat, which is something to worry about.

Conductor David Hoose was full of striking and illuminating ideas, like the measured tempo he chose for the fugue in the final movement. There was finesse as well as fire in this performance, integrity as well as flamboyance. He sought and found convincing balance between the extroverted and operatic dimension of the work and its inward, reflective side, which is so often neglected.

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