Handel & Hayden Society – Mozart’s Requiem

I love Mozart’s Requiem, although it is not exactly Mozart’s. Still, it is a wonderful piece of music – and a lot of fun to sing. The ending is a bit of a let-down, but you can’t have everything. As a lower male voice, I get a kick out of “Tuba Mirum” – “The trumpet will send its wonderous sound” – where the bass and some sort of trumpet-like thing have a little “how low can you go” competition. Not really, but there is a bit of musical rivalry between the solo male part and the solo brass as they exchange the baton through the piece. Fun stuff. The only complaint I usually have is that the director didn’t pick a true bass to sing the part – but rather a bass-baritone. There are some low notes that sometimes a bass-baritone can’t really nail, and that is the fun part of the piece. So, my usual complaint seemed justified for this concert: bass-baritone fails to really nail those notes.

I didn’t like the bass-baritone’s performance in this concert. His voice sounded flat – not very expressive – and there was too much vibrato – so much so that I couldn’t hear the tone of his voice.

I don’t read the bios in the program until after the concert – if I read them at all. If a singer catches my interest, I’ll read the bio. It wasn’t until afterwards that my escort for the evening said “that singer – he was in the opera thing you saw”. It was true, he was in an opera thing I saw, and I loved his voice in that performance. He sang Alberich in Lepage’s new Das Rheingold at the Met and the singer was Eric Owens. I loved his voice – and his performance in that. The New Yorker gushed

“Owens’s performance announces the emergence of a new major Wagner singer, for his portrayal is so richly layered that it may become a part of the history of opera.”

The “history of opera”. Well, who knows, I guess – OK. It was a fine performance, anyway. How could it be that I did not like his voice either in the Mozart Requiem or the other piece he sang that night: Mozart’s Per questa bella mano, K. 612.

I wanted to like the bass-baritone’s voice in the Mozart pieces.

I want to blame the acoustics in part. I had a good seat – $80 worth – just about halfway back in the orchestra, just off the center. However, I think the Handel and Haydn Society sounds a lot better in Jordan Hall. I probably won’t buy another ticket to hear them at Symphony Hall. But how could the acoustics be to blame? Symphony Hall is renowned for its excellent acoustics. True, I couldn’t hear the double bass obligato much at all in Per questa, so maybe the acoustics were somewhat to blame. Was he over-singing? Why would he? Surely he knows that the acoustics are excellent in that hall. And he sings in the damnably huge Metropolitan Opera. The concert was recorded for a part of a three-CD Mozart set. Was he singing for the CD instead of the hall?

It’s a puzzle. Maybe I was just expecting a big vibrato in Das Rheingold and wasn’t expecting that sort of voice in a Mozart piece. Hopefully I’ll remember to grab a copy of the CD and give it a listen.

With that minor quibble, the concert was very enjoyable. Harry Christophers squeezed every possible bit of drama out of the Requiem as he gymnastically danced about directing the choir and orchestra which seemed responsive to his every back-flip. Joking there. It was a very passionate and romantic Requiem, which I imagine some people might object to as being an anachronism, but my bet is that it will be a crowd-pleaser on CD. I enjoyed it.

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