JWR Articles: Live Event - Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (Conductor: JoAnn Falletta) - March 23, 2003
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Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

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No-risk readings miss the mark

“maverick” – an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

Discoveries are made when rules are “broken” or “mistakes” point the way to truth. Great music is laced with the chance of delving into and then beyond the funny little black dots that are mere guides to the greatness they contain. Knowledge and diligence are never enough; exceptional beauty and shared-understanding can only be unleashed when the printed pages have been near-recklessly left behind.

JoAnn Falletta failed to plumb the depths and, uncharacteristically, could not contain or control the forces at her disposal, particularly the wonderfully blended BPO Chorus in Verdi’s magnificent homage to other masters.

From the opening muted strings (given unwelcome accompaniment by the wheezing of chairs as intermission latecomers scurried back) to the stilted rendering of the sopranos’ (senza misura!) “Libera me,” the performance never jelled and, whether from tempo disagreements (“Mors stupebit”) or lack of focus and weight (“Dies irae”), was far too-often not together. As time passed, I increasingly felt the need to see (and hear) the result if Falletta would give less jabbing beats from her right hand and much more sculpting and contoured phrase releases with the left.

Verdi’s Requiem has always been part of my life. As a teenager, I remember nearly impaling myself with my clarinet at the first rehearsal when the louder-than-Scud bass drum first demonstrated the composer’s passion in the ever-apocalyptic “Dies irae.” Georg Solti’s 1968 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, relative newcomer Luciano Pavarotti and the truly incredible Joan Sutherland (prior to going into her music director monopoly with husband/coach Richard Bonynge) has remained the benchmark.; And my Dover score still contains Robert Page’s excellent breathing plan from my student days at Carnegie Mellon University.

Breath control, like pressure and speed of bow, is the crucial element in crafting together the disparate parts of this daunting masterpiece. I was astonished when the soloists chose to break their first utterances in half, robbing us of line, awe and drama right from the start.

Claudine Carlson’s sturdy, pitch-perfect mezzo-soprano was the best of the quartet whether on her own (“Liber scriptusrldquo;) or in ensemble (“Angus Dei,” had an unforgettable opening statement). Bass-baritone Ding Gao was also a dependable contributor with his ever-flexible, open warmth that just lacked what only nature can provide to achieve true depth in the bottom register.

Bridgett Hooks and Steven Tharp, although both less consistent, provided much to admire. Hooks has great power and projection but needs to be wary of over-stepping some of the descending intervals. Her “Libera me,” was dramatically convincing, but the release of the most exposed B-flat in the vocal repertoire was not as successful.

Similarly, Tharp’s liquid, creamy tenor seemed to lose its way in the close harmony of the ensembles, but was a continuous pleasure in his solo offerings (especially “Ingemisco”).

The BPO Chorus is an ensemble of great distinction whose confidence, rhythm (I have always wondered how the opening “Requiems” might sound if sung as truly equal eighths) and pitch improved as the evening progressed. The responsibility for the several untidy final consonants rests with the podium, but the warmth of tone and consistently fine balance indicate first-rate preparation by music director Dale Adelmann.

And what of the orchestra? Like the competent but extremely detached Fountains of Rome that began the program to permit an intermission, the players seemed to scramble for their notes far more than I have previously heard. And the spectacular brass interjections were often marred by uncertain pitch and early, late or bobbled entries. Still, when all cylinders were firing the result was as good as can be found anywhere. Here’s to more of the same! JWR

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Conductor - JoAnn Falletta
Chorus Master - Dale Adelmann
Soprano - Bridgett Hooks
Mezzo-soprano - Claudine Carlson
Tenor - Steven Tharp
Bass-baritone - Ding Gao
Repertoire:
Requiem - Giuseppe Verdi
The Fountains of Rome - Ottorino Respighi
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra League of American Orchestras
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