Concert Review: Charlotte Symphony Performs Fauré’s Requiem and Ravel’s Mother Goose
By Perry Tannenbaum
The Charlotte Symphony’s most recent concert was designed by music director Christopher Warren-Green to be a seasonally appropriate tribute to the brave men-in-arms who serve and sacrifice for our nation in our military. Between Veterans Day on November 11 and the first of three concerts at Belk Theater on November 19-21, history intruded in Paris and Beirut. So after the orchestra played George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad Rhapsody and Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose, maestro Warren-Green returned to the podium and rededicated the final piece of the evening, Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem – and, indeed, the entire program.
Now the 1888 Requiem was dedicated to veterans of our armed forces and to victims of terrorism in Paris, Beirut, and around the globe. While the traditional Latin text isn’t custom-tailored to either group, the setting by Fauré sounded very serendipitous. We’ve had four other requiems presented in Charlotte in recent years, by Mozart, Verdi, Duruflé, and Howells. The Fauré reminded me most of the Duruflé in its calmer moments, most of the Verdi in its moments of turbulence.
Drama resonating with our anger and outrage had to be vented in response to this shocking occasion, and baritone Douglas Williams – along with the Charlotte Symphony Chorus under Kenney Potter – voiced those emotions most compellingly when we reached the “Agnus Dei” section and its climactic “Day of Wrath” stanza. Yet we also needed the consoling serenity of Christina Pier softly singing the “Pie Jesu” in her velvety soprano.
Butterworth certainly wasn’t the only turn-of-the-20th-century British composer to be inspired by the terse stoical beauty of A.E. Housman’s pastoral poetry, but this rhapsody for orchestra had a special twilight radiance under Warren-Green’s baton. The sonority of the full ensemble was poignantly punctuated with a wide palette of succinct solos by clarinetist Eugene Kavadlo, English horn virtuoso Terry Maskin, harpist Andrea Mumm, concertmaster Calin Lupanu, bassoonist Mary Beth Griglak, and bass clarinetist Alan Rosenfeld. Amy Whitehead had the ethereal last word on flute over a soft barrage of timpani from Leonardo Soto.
You wonder whether Warren-Green considered moving Ravel’s charming fantasy suite to the end of the program, just to send us home with a smile. Stealing the scene from the other impish or enchanting episodes was the penultimate “Conversations of Beauty and the Beast.” Kavadlo, Whitehead, Mumm, oboist Hollis Ulaky, and – highest of all – Lupanu all took turns with the beauteous portion of the dialogue. But ‘twas contrabassoonist Lori Tiberio as the Beast who unquestionably conquered the beauties in musical derring-do. Keeping these lighthearted moments in the middle of all the somber moods surrounding it proved to be the right choice.