Saturday evening's concert by Central Florida Community Arts at the First Presbyterian Church of Maitland was high in spirits, eager and full of potential, but ultimately fell short of bringing to life the magnificence of this choral piece.
The piece of choice is one of the most revered choral works ever. Shrouded in mystery about its origins and completion, Mozart's Requiem in D minor juxtaposes dark instrumental passages with angelic choral melodies. Although the performance of the 93-piece choir was very effective and movingly captured the shifts in character -- extending from the ethereal to the stormy -- the orchestral forces were not up to par and the overall performance would have really benefited from more meticulous attention to balance and dynamics.
The four soloists, whose names were inexplicably not pointed out in the program, interpreted their lines with poise and confidence and their performance benefited much from the tenor's exceptional talent. Their canonic interweaving, subtly crafted by the composer during key passages, sounded particularly pleasing.
Indeed, the strength of the performance lay in the vocal forces at work, especially in the denser, more demanding textures. Particularly well-achieved moments were the overlapping entrances in the 'Sanctus' and the 'Communio' finale, ascending to a rousing climax -- intensified by a thick polyphony that was executed with precision to high emotional effect.
Other vocal highlights were the sopranos in the 'Dies irae,' the soprano/alto juxtaposition against tenor/bass that opens the 'Kyrie,' and the wrenching mournfulness of the 'Lacrimosa.'
In general, the small string section suffered much, however, from constantly being overpowered by chorus and brass. They were practically inaudible in the forte sections of the 'Dies irae,' for example, lost beneath the fury of the full choir singing about the day of wrath and the trumpets and trombones blaring thunderously.
The choice of two clarinets instead of the darker and duller basset horns that Mozart's score calls for was odd. Unfortunately, the first few measures of the 'Introitus' were marred by a loud bassoon, conspicuously rasping out its line against softly mourning strings, instead of subtly emerging from the ethereal atmosphere with which Mozart sets the scene.
The continuo section for cello and double bass was strong, on the other hand, carrying the constant pulsation of the score throughout the piece, loud enough to not get lost amid the choir and brass. It was also enhanced by a good timpani player.
Conductor Jacob Haines kept a steady beat throughout, as well as the impetus that propels the piece, although I wish he had paid closer attention to the problems in balance going on than to the beat and even the score. The famous 'Confutatis' sequence did not come together, at least not in the hefty opening part with brass. The choir was very good, but the brass were too loud and the strings were barely audible against them. Another major dud of the performance was the 'Tuba mirum,' highlighting trombones and bass soloist in the beginning, which would have really benefited from further rehearsal, namely, from right notes and fluency in the trombones.
Central Florida Community Arts, a Central Florida cultural platform for music, education and the performing arts, will continue in September with two performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical Oklahoma!
For more information please visit cfcarts.com
To watch a performance of Mozart's Requiem, click here.