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More of the Same from the BSO

See my review of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a preview of their 2011-2012 season at

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Serves Up Yet Another "Requiem" (Washingtonian, June 13):

How often does Verdi’s Requiem get performed in the Washington area? At least once a year seems a reasonable guess, and it's generally true, but this season will see even more performances than that. In fact, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s season-ending performance of the work, heard on Saturday night at Strathmore, is the third in less than three weeks, following those by the Prince George’s Philharmonic (May 14) and the National Philharmonic (May 21). Marin Alsop’s blockbuster debut season with the BSO, in 2007-08, seemed to have inaugurated a daring new period for the ensemble—the first “major” American orchestra to be led by a woman as music director. Whatever the reason, Alsop’s programming in subsequent seasons has not been nearly as exciting, and the season past was no different, with a few exceptions. Alsop’s focus on contemporary music, especially by American composers, has continued, albeit with works that it is hard to describe as great. So this performance of the biggest choral chestnut of them all seemed par for the course.

Alsop had an outstanding soprano soloist in Angela Meade, who was frankly the only reason that I wanted to hear another Requiem. The reviews of Meade did not exaggerate: She has a tremendously powerful and flexible dramatic voice, and she blew the rest of the quartet out of the water in terms of both power and subtlety. Even at the loudest parts of the score, with the entire BSO at full bore, Meade’s voice sailed clearly over the fray, while she also had suave control of her voice at soft dynamics, shimmering in the stratosphere in the “Lacrymosa” movement. What Verdi does to the soprano in the closing “Libera me” is sadistic, calling for a high B-flat at pppp. It is unfair to judge an entire performance on the basis of one note, but the sound of that note can make or break the piece. Meade got it and held it, perhaps a little tenuous, the only minor quibble about an otherwise stellar performance. To be fair, this was her third-straight evening singing this very demanding piece. [Continue reading]

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