Review: Okanagan Symphony dazzles with Verdi’s Requiem

Remembrance offering was months in the making

Concert review by Anita Perry

This past weekend, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra presented its second concert in the Masterworks series, a thrilling performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem.

Dedicated to the memory of Italian writer and humanist Alessandro Manzoni, this work is the most frequently performed requiem next to the Mozart Requiem, and was an inspired choice for a concert on the weekend celebrating the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

The Requiem is undoubtedly a dramatic work, and Verdi’s opera sensibilities are in clear evidence. Verdi understood the fact that the text is the core of an aria. Thus, the emotion and intent behind each movement of the Requiem are clear, not just in the melodic setting of the words, but the polished orchestral accompaniment. It is interesting to note that when the work was premiered in Milan on May 22, 1874, critics of the day found the music too dramatic for religious purposes. Fortunately, 144 years later, audiences appreciate Verdi’s accomplished orchestration, sublime melodies and dramatic presentation.

Featuring 67 instrumentalists, 140 choristers and four soloists, the orchestra’s performance was a tour de force. Guiding and controlling 211 musicians is no small feat, and as usual, conductor Rosemary Thomson rose to the occasion. With rehearsals that began in the spring, this project had been a long time in the making and the final result showed the careful preparation.

The four soloists brought in for the concert displayed superb musicianship as well as control of vocal technique. Soprano Tracy Cantin was dazzling in her projection over chorus and orchestra. Her final libera me was heartfelt and gorgeous. mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal shone in the liber scriptus, her voice warm and rich. Tenor Justin Stolz’s bright, crisp tones were a pleasure to hear in all his entries, and his Ingemisco was simply beautiful. Baritone Justin Welsh excelled in his rendition of mors stupebit, his rich notes accurate and ringing.

From the impassioned dies irae to the final moving Libera me, Thompson brought Verdi’s intent and passion to life. Of particular note was the end of the requiem aeternam section of the Libera me movement. This could have gotten away from a less accomplished conductor, but Maestra Thomson held the massive ensemble together with what appeared to be a minimum of effort. Kudos to the flute trio, bassoon quartet and trumpet octet that played with tight precision and flowing musicality.

It was no surprise that Saturday’s sold-out performance was greeted with an unreserved standing ovation. And it was equally clear from the musicians’ rapt attention to the baton’s nuances, that the orchestra members were confident to follow wherever Thomson led them. The result was a concert that will be difficult to surpass. Although, knowing Thomson, she’ll find a way to make the next concert even more memorable.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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