Columns
9:07 am
Mon June 22, 2009

Concert Review: The Philadelphia Orchestra and The Philadelphia Singers Perform Berlioz


Lesley Valdes, WRTI's critic-at-large, reviews The Philadelphia Orchestra's June 18th performance of Berlioz's Requiem, with The Philadelphia Singers and tenor Paul Grove.

The Philadelphia Orchestra

Charles Dutoit, conductor

The Philadelphia Singers

David Hayes, choral director

Paul Grove, tenor soloist

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center

June 18, 19, 21

Berlioz's great Requiem is The Philadelphia Orchestra's current program, and the interpretation under Charles Dutoit is special. It highlights all the nuance and refinement possible in the enormous choir that leader David Hayes has maintained so well. The Philadelphia Singers and the Orchestra are performing Berlioz without the bombast you so often hear in this masterwork from the time of Queen Victoria. Oh, the Tuba Mirum is definitely blasting out. The brass, stretched high on three of Verizon's balconies, are playing like heroes. But because of Verizon's acoustic challenges the sound does not ring out quite so triumphantly or so synchronized. Amazingly, the singers, no matter how pianissimo they sing, project cleanly. Except in one movement they were not overwhelmed by the Orchestra: credit Dutoit.

The Philadelphia Singers sing with nuance, with ease, with extreme beauty. The high sopranos have a ravishing quality and the basses are very clean. There are no supertitles; follow the text in the program and it will underscore your appreciation of their text painting. On Thursday night, the "Lacryrmosa" and "Hostias" were exceptional. Everything was. Okay, maybe not the "Offertorium" - being midrange for the women's voices and the strings, it was hard to hear. The other weak spot in the performance was a loss of tension during the "Agnus Dei" following the extraordinary "Sanctus" sung by Paul Groves - the superb tenor who waits all night for just that one penultimate movement. "The Sanctus" was magnificent: long-breathed lines, held just so. Groves sounded like an archangel, or so I imagine one. He was perched high on a third-tier balcony in the rear of Verizon Hall.

Consultants from Threshold, the acoustic firm from Chicago, were in the house for the Berlioz Requiem, so the acoustic challenges were noted. Threshold's recommendations are expected over the summer. It won't be soon enough for the players. If The Philadelphia Orchestra plays this well not hearing each other onstage, or from the hall, we're in for a treat when it can.