Review of Dvorak's Requiem

August 15, 2010

We were reminded in that moment...how the inspired performance of a brilliantly conceived musical work can transport us far beyond the day-to-day vagaries of the human condition and into the realm of the Divine.

On Friday the 13th, classical music lovers braved an unusually sultry August evening to hear a rare Grant Park Music Festival performance of Dvorák’s glorious Requiem. This is the popular Czech composer’s supreme opus, a musical narrative based on the classic Catholic mass for the dead; performed by a full orchestra and sung in Latin by four soloists and a chorus of over 100 voices.

Maestro Carlos Kalmar, with typical zest, led his musicians and his audience on a journey through the 13 sections of this expansive piece; from the solemn march toward wrath and judgment, through the sweet supplications of the soloist’s earthly voices, to the joy of salvation expressed by the heavenly choral interludes. The irony of urban skies that just hours before were dominated by the roar of military death machines, now filled with Dvorák’s majestic prayer for the redemption of the human soul, was not lost on your humble reviewer. As an audience we could not help but be moved to the same contemplation of life’s mysteries that the 50-year-old composer himself must have experienced as he was creating this masterpiece.

Requiem is one of the relatively unknown treasures of the 19th century choral repertoire. It is commonly referred to by music scholars as a symphonic work that demonstrates Dvorák’s sense of balance as a composer with its restraint and feeling of awe, never succumbing to overly dramatic devices and always demonstrating the composer’s compassion and sensitivity. This was certainly reflected in the nuances of the Grant Park performance, from the fine soloists (Layla Claire, Soprano; Alexandra Petersamer, Mezzo Soprano; Brendan Tuohy, Tenor and Kyle Ketelsen, Bass) to the majestic choral performance, all supported by the incredible playing of the Grant Park Symphony, which skillfully and dramatically wove Dvorák’s distinctive four-note theme throughout the piece, drawing it together into a satisfying whole under Maestro Kalmar’s impassioned direction.

As the evening drew to a close, we sat under Gehry’s rolling waves of steel, as heat lightning from an oncoming storm added natural drama to Requiem’s magnificent finale. We were reminded in that moment, and in the 90 minutes of musical virtuosity that preceded it; how the inspired performance of a brilliantly conceived musical work can transport us far beyond the day-to-day vagaries of the human condition and into the realm of the Divine.

Lori Dana, Chicago Stage Review