Milwaukee Symphony, Chorus deliver emotionally charged 'Requiem'

The Basilica of Saint Josaphat, with its altar and some of its statuary draped in purple for Lent, proved the perfect venue for a Milwaukee Symphony performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” on Friday evening.

Guest conductor Matthew Halls led the orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, and soprano Sherezade Panthaki, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Lawrence Wiliford and baritone Alexander Dobson in an emotionally charged performance.

Halls used dramatic crescendos and decrescendos, punchy accents that would not have worked in a concert hall acoustic, and carefully timed pauses to relish the long sonic decay in the room, as he crafted a performance of remarkable clarity.

Still, the hall presented some issues, including rather muddy sounds from the string basses, which were positioned behind the large, fabric-shrouded (and therefore sound-absorbing) altar.

Panthaki delivered graceful, liquid passages, beside Bragle’s, gentle, warm sound. Wiliford brought a present, focused, expressive tenor sound to the piece, along with an enormous reserve of power. Dobson sang with a rich, flexible, baritone.

The voices did not fare equally in the large space, particularly in ensemble passages, where they struggled a bit with balance.
Mozart relegated much of the heavy lifting in this piece to the chorus. The Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, prepared for this performance by Catherine Sailer, gave a masterful performance, singing with energy, precision. Nimble execution of fast, melismatic passages, taut deliveries of long, broad dynamic changes, as well as quick, dramatic dynamic shifts, and cleanly enunciated texts, were all integral in their performance.

The orchestra gave a finely crafted performance of the “Requiem,” from beautifully shaped phrases to decisive, biting accents, and artful use of dynamic shifts, delivering remarkable clarity in the live venue.

The program’s first half opened with the somber Symphony No. 4 by Karl Amadeus Hartmann.

Written in Germany in the dark years immediately after World War II, the piece is heavy, even emotionally ponderous at times. Played with technical clarity and musical conviction, the work served as a contemplative prelude to the profound “Requiem.”

This MSO performance will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Basilica of Saint Josaphat, 2333 S. 6 St. Limited tickets are available at the door. The doors open one hour prior to performance.

Elaine Schmidt, Journal Sentinel
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