A Sly 13th in Grant Park Fest

August 14, 2010

The Grant Park Music Festival may not have outwardly embraced Friday the 13th last night, but its first-ever program of Dvorak's rarely performed Requiem (1890) at least passed itself off as a sly salute.

The Grant Park Music Festival may not have outwardly embraced Friday the 13th last night, but its first-ever program of Dvorak's rarely performed Requiem (1890) at least passed itself off as a sly salute. While the work has a formidable running time (104 minutes on Friday), this underrated score's 13 hope-filled movements were hardly cause for fear.

Dvorak's relaxed setting to the Roman church's mass for the dead made for a welcome oddity Friday night -- and to be repeated tonight -- as it provided a counterpoint to the more familiar and bombastic versions of Verdi and Berlioz. Contemplative warmth permeates this music as Dvorak holds in check all the heaven-storming and anguished outbursts.

A top-tier quartet of singers is essential for a convincing performance, and conductor Carlos Kalmar had marvelously bold vocal support from soprano Layla Claire, mezzo Alexandra Petersamer, tenor Brendan Tuohy and bass Kyle Ketelson.

If these requiem masses often stir the souls of ages past, Dvorak seems intent to rouse the spirits of his musical heroes. Flavors of Verdi, Bach and Cherubini are present, and even the opening 'Requiem Aeternam' briefly quotes a sweeping phrase of Pachelbel's "Canon." Perhaps it is the music's lack of a distinct voice that's kept it away from Chicago, but it is deserving of more attention here. (Chicago Symphony founder Theodore Thomas was one of its earliest stateside champions.)

Despite some less than stellar woodwind playing to start the second half, the orchestra and chorus joined as an indomitable unit with help from guest choral conductor William Jon Gray.

Bryant Manning, Chicago Sun Times