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Music Director Alfred E. Sturgis led the 170-voice Raleigh Oratorio Society Symphonic Choir in an all-Brahms program in Meymandi Hall on April 14 in celebration of the 60 years of the organization's existence. (See the related item in the news portion of our website.)
The intermission-less program opened with the Tragische Overtüre , Op. 81, composed in 1880-81, a suitable selection to precede the major work, Ein deutsches Requiem, Op 45, dating primarily from 1865-66-the 5th movement was added in 1868 after the première performance, which the composer conducted in that year. Neither work is celebratory in the usual sense, yet they seemed appropriate to the times, as Sturgis commented at the beginning of the program, and proved to be an excellent demonstration of the level of achievement the ROS has attained. Noticeably appropriately, too, all musicians except the soprano soloist, who wore a blue gown with sequined top, were in formal black attire in spite of this being an afternoon event.
The Requiem is not a setting of the standard Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, but of groups of Scriptural texts (in German translation) selected by the composer and arranged into seven movements with the intention of offering comfort and assurance to those left behind. It was sung in the original language, the text and a translation thereof provided on a two-sheet insert in the season program, which also listed the names of the 51 musicians, primarily from the NC Symphony, who made up the orchestra.
The performance by all parties was uniformly close to flawless. Attacks and conclusions of movements were precise and crisp under Sturgis' clearly delineating baton. Dynamics were likewise well managed and effectively controlled by all. Diction was excellent as well, remarkable from a chorus of this many voices in a piece where lyrical lushness is the dominant mode. Words were clear and sounded authentic. The soloists, baritone Daniel Boye and soprano Jacqueline Culpepper, acquitted themselves well, although Boye's voice seemed not to project quite as well as Culpepper's. In addition, his pronunciation of the "ch" letter combination (as in "Ich," "dich," "mich," "sich," "nicht") seemed closer to the French than to the German sound to my ears, especially noticeable in the third movement, which contains numerous occurrences of the sound.
The section of the season program for this concert gave excellent succinct notes by Sturgis about the Requiem , its compositional "craftsmanship," and its structural "balance, unity and symmetry," but none about the Overtüre . It also included bios of the soloists, both now affiliated with Davidson College, Boye as an Associate Professor of Physics, in which field he holds a Ph.D. He teaches a course in "Musical Technology" and also gives lectures on such subjects as "The Science of Singing." This reviewer would like to take them in!
There were way too many empty seats in Meymandi Hall for the milestone performance by this outstanding group.