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Music Review

A Verdi Requiem With Thrills and Chills

April 29, 2002|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Though the Verdi centenary year has come and gone, the procession of Verdi Requiems in Southern California continues, this time in Ventura County.

Conductor Boris Brott, the New West Symphony, a fine quartet of vocal soloists and the combined forces of the Ventura Master Chorale and the Los Robles Master Chorale put together a respectable performance of the requiem at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on Saturday night. Better yet, they managed to create a few thrills and chills with a piece that for all of its highly charged strokes of apocalyptic theater does not necessarily come off automatically.

It was not a performance for those who dote upon lingering tempos and floating spiritual contemplation. Brott liked to keep things moving, sometimes rushing passages, enforcing abrupt cutoffs and long pauses, bringing the whole work in at just under 80 minutes--a fast pace. The thunderous recurring outbreaks of the Dies Irae music seemed underpowered and murky in texture from the perspective of the right side of the orchestra seats. The choruses didn't coalesce completely until the final Libera Me section, just in time to pull off the tightly conducted fugue near the close.

Still, listeners were able to get a decent idea of the emotional impact of this work. And when Brott signaled the trumpets in the balconies during the Tuba Mirum section, yes, the Day of Judgment was upon us in full cry.

The most consistently inspired moments came from the vocal quartet, and in particular, the veteran basso, on loan from Los Angeles Opera, Louis Lebherz. Lebherz was outstanding, his voice in resonant, clearly etched form, rendering the Confutatis section of the Dies Irae movement with spine-chilling eloquence. Tenor Steven Harrison brought emotional fervor and steady legato phrasing to the Ingemisco section. Soprano Sharon Azrieli soared sweetly or quaked with fear and wrath on cue, blending quite well with mezzo-soprano Wendy Hillhouse.

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