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Verdi Requiem, Chicago, June 2007
Requiem a heavenly ending as CSO season draws to close
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 15 June 2007

With two more weeks of subscription concerts remaining on its downtown calendar before it takes up residence at Ravinia, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its resident Chicago Symphony Chorus are closing out the season at Orchestra Hall quite literally with a bang.

Their heavy artillery consists of two big choral masterpieces  Verdi's Requiem Mass this weekend and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 next week.

The Verdi Requiem is at once a patriotic memorial and a profoundly moving religious meditation written by an agnostic. No performance can be considered ordinary, because this monumental work invariably inspires performers to summon extraordinary resources. And so it was with the fervent performance conducted by David Zinman on Thursday night.

The solo and choral singing and orchestral work were as strong as one might expect, despite the cancellation of one of the soloists, bass Ildar Abdrazakov, because of travel-related difficulties. His replacement, Morris D. Robinson, sounded dry early in the performance but soon was anchoring the vocal quartet with a stern, saturnine sound.

More important was Zinman's firm sense of pacing and flow, which made the 15 sections into an architectonic whole. He solved one of the Requiem's trickiest challenges for a conductor, which is to balance the thunderous depiction of the Day of Wrath with the sublimely inward pages in which mortal souls cry out to the Almighty for deliverance as if lofting lyrical arias in a Verdi opera.

All the vocal soloists were making CSO debuts.

Of the four, Giuseppe Sabbatini could boast the most Italianate sound and style, and his high notes in the "Ingemisco" section thrilled with their ringing majesty. But the tenor also refined his dynamic and tonal palette so that his soft singing carried a wonderfully plaintive conviction as well.

Two of the Requiem's most affecting sections are the duets for soprano and mezzo-soprano soloist, and here the American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and the Swiss mezzo Yvonne Naef blended voices beautifully.

Naef, her sound warm and true over a wide vocal range, touched one's heart in everything she sang. Radvanovsky made the terror and anguish of "Libera me" palpable against the chorus' thundering its final shouts of the "Dies irae."

From the chorus' hushed entrance in the "Requiem aeternam" to the mighty "Libera me Domine" fugue that closes the work, director Duain Wolfe's superbly prepared ensemble, 175 voices strong, was fully inside everything it sang.

Does any American symphony chorus "own" this work more completely?

The orchestra, too, proved itself a full partner in Verdian heaven-storming as well as lyrical detailing. Bravos all around.