Shepard conducts stunning performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Mechanics Hall

Worcester audiences have become so accustomed to fine performances presented by Music Worcester that sometimes they are taken for granted. But the concert presented on Sunday afternoon in Mechanics Hall set the bar a notch higher. As the stunning performance of Verdi’s setting of the Requiem Mass ended, the audience sat in respectful (and perhaps awed) silence for several seconds before standing as one to acknowledge an outstanding presentation.

The Worcester Chorus, the Masterwork Chorus from New Jersey and the Worcester Festival Orchestra were conducted by Dr. Chris Shepard in celebration and appreciation of Dr. Shepard’s ten years as conductor of the Worcester Chorus. Joining the 250 vocalists and instrumentalists onstage was a solo quartet consisting of Robyn Marie Lamp, soprano, Sahoko Sato Timpone, mezzo soprano, Jorge Pita Carreras, tenor and Dashon Burton, bass-baritone.

The Requiem is the only Verdi work outside of his operas that is still widely performed. It was written as an homage to his beloved friend, Alessandro Manzoni, a novelist and poet, who at that time was the most revered figure in Italian public life. It is a concert piece, not for liturgical use, though its first performance was in a Milan cathedral. Verdi was 61 years old when the Requiem had its first performance and the Requiem bears all the marks of his long career as an opera composer — dramatic intensity, bel canto melodies, and emotional depth. The Requiem was such a success that ostensibly at the end of a performance in Italy, Verdi was presented with a silver crown on an elegant cushion.

If there had been an extra silver crown available on Sunday, this reviewer would have presented it to Dr. Shepard for leading the three groups in such an exciting performance. The choruses were totally engaged in the music, singing with precise attention to accurate pitch, rhythm and dynamics. What was most exciting to hear was the emotional interpretation of the words of the mass setting. The sheer terror and sense of profound loss in the Dies Irae were conveyed with bone-chilling exactness and starkly contrasted with the lyrical, heart-wrenching melody of the Lacrimosa. The choruses were just superb.

The soloists were outstanding as well in their significant contributions. Robyn Lamp has a radiant soprano voice which she handles with great expertise and ease. She plucked bell-like high As, Bs and Cs out of some celestial sphere, always interpreting the text with deep-felt emotion; her interpretation of the line “I am made to tremble and fear” was truly affecting. Mezzo Sahoko Sato Timpone had an extensive role which she delivered with marvelous richness and sensitivity. Her duet with Ms. Lamp in the Recordare was a musical high point. Tenor Jose Pita Carreras produced some of the most stunning pianissimo singing that has ever been heard, and bass-baritone Dashon Burton provided a profoundly affecting intensity to his solos and sensitive partnership with the other soloists. This group was the most professionally satisfying quartet of soloists that this reviewer has heard in a Music Worcester presentation.

The orchestra which accompanies the Worcester Chorus in its many concerts has consistently improved and on Sunday was excellent. There were a few errant releases in the winds and one or two sloppy executions in the strings, but the group partnered well with the voices and was sensitive to the balance between them. A segment during the Tuba Mirum when the trumpets on stage were echoed by four trumpets in the balcony heightened the drama of the performance, and shimmering strings and fluttering flutes brought a heavenly glow to Lux Aeterna.

We hope that Dr. Shepard has many more masterpieces that he would like to conduct and that he will spend at least ten more years in Worcester performing them. He and his vocal groups are treasures that we hope to hear again and again. Kudos to all who participated in this performance; you all should be very proud.

Joyce TamerWorcester Telegram