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A Sobering Meditation on Death

The Pasadena Symphony, Pacific Chorale and talented soloists give a polished performance of Verdi's Requiem, but emotional highs are few.


The Pasadena Symphony's performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem on Saturday night was planned to have been dedicated to the memory of a longtime patron and benefactor of the orchestra, Ida Hull Lloyd Crotty, a guiding force in several long-term projects of the orchestra in the past decade.

Then, late last week, with the death of arts impresario and former Pasadena Symphony manager Wayne Shilkret, the conductor, Jorge Mester, decided also to dedicate this performance to Shilkret's memory. The music director announced the double dedication before the performance in Pasadena Civic Auditorium Saturday.

The performance, in which the Pacific Chorale collaborated, and which featured vocal soloists Camellia Johnson, Kimball Wheeler, Vinson Cole and Kyle Ketelson, made its wonted impact--Verdi never wrote any stage piece more intense or dramatic than this one--but with a certain reserve and only a modicum of spontaneity.

This was not a blazing performance, but a sobering one.


Mester controlled it with his usual astuteness and attention to detail; the orchestra's playing underlined the work's passion and seriousness but at an emotional distance. The listening experience was not in the moment, but rather at a remove.

The ensemble's instrumental choirs operated tightly and in their most polished mode. The brass, in particular, made mighty, and potent, but never raucous sounds.

The distinguished solo quartet, comprised of experienced Verdians, never achieved that level of heat one might have expected; the singers seemed to possess the sounds, but not the energy, to illuminate the wrenching peaks of this score.

Johnson and Wheeler made handsome sounds in both the Recordare duet and in the Agnus Dei, but dramatic peaks elsewhere did not find their emotional level. And Johnson failed to ignite the passions of the "Libera me" finale, as we know they can be ignited. This is a finale about life and death; somehow, that information was left out.

Cole's beautiful tenor sound informed his solos strongly, but he too fell short of maximum dramatic impact. Ketelson sang handsomely, if just a couple of notches below top energy levels.

After a timid beginning, the Pacific Chorale brought words and tone into focus later in the performance, though the Sanctus in both choral and instrumental parts lacked the definition and clarity it demands. Mostly, however, the Chorale never sounded as large as it looked; its singing emerged genteel when the listener wanted more impassioned expression.

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