Redlands Symphony Orchestra's audience had a mighty experience at the season finale concert on Saturday, April, 6 as a stage full of musicians was transformed into the pure expression of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in two cloths: his most subtle and his most expressive.
The concert left no doubt about conductor Jon Robertson's passion for Mozart and the musicians' willingness to follow wherever he led them through such diverse expressions as the Clarinet Concerto and the Requiem Mass in D minor.
Principal Kathryn Nevin soloed, with score, for the clarinet concerto, bringing the work a lithe and fluid sound, rich with impeccable technique. Nevin delivered easy, graceful runs, scales, and arpeggios, making them sound as easy as sipping fine wine – probably not, however.
Clean, monumental leaps from the lowest register to the highest seemed as effortless as saying hello – again, I'm guessing not. Her elegant artistry for the Adagio reminded us that the genius of performing such a poignant work means not overplaying.
Seemingly totally pumped, the orchestra's opening phrases glowed with inspiration, sweetly sensitive without being maudlin. With full-on enthusiasm, they performed in an uncluttered partnership with Nevin, guided by Robertson's spare and precise direction.
After a ridiculously long post-intermission wait, with the choir standing on stage for more than 15 minutes while the audience leisurely rumbled in, the orchestra and singers gathered themselves for an offering unlike anything heard at Memorial Chapel since the last time Mozart's Requiem was performed.
Through a huge force of energy, Robertson shaped 150 singers, members of four separate choirs, into one cohesive unit that seemed to become the obvious expression of Robertson's soul. The piece is a true masterwork, but when performed with an ordinary choir it sounds, well, ordinary. In the hands of a passionate conductor and the voices of disciplined and focused singers, it becomes what it was meant to be. Such was the case at this concert.
After the simple, stately marching orchestral entrance, like the soul obediently moving to its destination, the choir released a wash of sound, full and balanced, that filled the hall. It was mighty and massive for an outright command to God for mercy in the Kyrie, driving and fierce for the Dies irae with its furious run to an abrupt end, and the grand proclamation of God's holiness in the Sanctus. Never just noise, the choir's fortissimos resounded with clarity, round and rich.
Perhaps more impressive, the pianissimos lifted the breath from the audience. Robertson shaped each phrase, exaggerating the crescendos and decrescendos at times, pulling long lines from the singers. The choir gave Robertson lovely, supported entrances, with soprano voices shimmering lightly in the Confutatis and the entire group singing with long sustained moving lines in the Agnus Dei. Singing quietly with grand, deep reverence in the Hostias, the choir showed its great texture and color, one moment hushed, the next breath big, all completely attentive to Robertson's insistent, expressive and clear direction.
Blending neatly together and with the choir, soprano Katrina Herrera, mezzo-soprano Daniela Nuzzoli, tenor Raul Hernandez and bass Wayne Shepperd became the gemstones on the Requiem necklace, each distinct as a voice, each sensitive to the ensemble balance, and eminently able to stand up to the power of the orchestra, especially in the Benedictus.
Shepperd's creamy silky bass voice opened the Tuba mirum with an elegance that caused jaws to drop, and gave us pause to consider that dying might not be so bad, if we could all go to this performance of Mozart's Requiem.