Some art comes to you, speaks to you where you are, and seems to relate to particular aspects of your life. Other art draws you away, lifts you and allows you to forget the particular aspects of your life. Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle’s performance of “The Genius and His Foe” Sunday at Carolina Theater in Durham was the second kind. The orchestra, with guests the Concert Singers of Cary played two Requiems, A. Salieri’s Requiem in C Minor (1804), and W.A. Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor (1756-1791).
The “genius” is Mozart, who could not help but create inspired works. The “foe,” Salieri, who is rumored to have envied Mozart’s gift and lamented his own lack of the genius he saw in Mozart.
Salieri’s Requiem came first. While still beautifully transcendent, his work was all around smaller than Mozart’s. The intensity grew and fell, but was not held at any level for long enough to build suspense. At the end of the final movement the strings became quiet and the chorus, brass, and woodwind instruments carried on to the last grand moment when the timpani joined. The vocalists were strong features in this piece. Soloists Jacquelyn Culpepper (soprano), Mary Gayle Greene (mezzo soprano), Wade Henderson (tenor), and Don Milholin (bass) complimented each other and the orchestra.
Requiem in D Minor was Mozart’s final composition. He died before it was completed, at only 35 years old, leaving one of his students to finish the job. The height of intensity reached by the end of Salieri’s Requiem was surpassed early in the first movement of Mozart’s, and it only grew from there. The chorus and soloists were an important part of the work, but the voices were more understated, allowing the orchestra to build a more constantly dramatic sound. In certain parts the vocalists were perhaps too understated.
The longer periods of soft music growing to a staccato on the strings created suspense. Throughout the work there was a feeling of urgency that never let up. The smooth tone of the trombone solo in tuba mirum in the second movement stood out as a moment of lightness, as did the rest of tuba mirum featuring each of the vocal soloists in turn. The melancholy of this piece seems to reflect the truths and rumors about the end of Mozart’s short life.
The pairing of these two pieces was the perfect topic for a pre-concert lecture by conductor and artistic director Lorenzo Muti on the lives of Mozart and Salieri and the context of their works. His own interest and knowledge in the subject contributed to the audience’s understanding and connection with the music. He explained the conditions both Requiems were composed under: Mozart’s commissioned by a bizarre messenger, Salieri’s composed for himself. Muti also addressed the source of the suspicion that Salieri might have poisoned Mozart, partly that Salieri claimed to have done so after losing his mind. Whether the rumors are true or not, they make the differences in these similar works intriguing.
On the way out of the theater I overheard a woman say “I didn’t expect it to be so good after hearing it so many times before.” It made me wonder how an orchestra can present a familiar piece like Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor and still draw the audience in. For this orchestra it was no problem. That may be due to the humility and sincere admiration for the work that showed in the performance. Both pieces were treated with warmth by Muti, the orchestra, and the singers.
This was the first Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle concert for me — I’ve marked my calendar for next season’s concerts.
Today was the final performance of the Chamber Orchestra’s 2010-2011 season. Visit their website at http://www.chamberorchestraofthetriangle.org/ for information about the 2011-2012 season.
by Denise Cerniglia