By Maia Nolan
Daily News correspondent
Atwood Concert Hall audiences love a good standing ovation — the longer, the better. But the one bestowed on the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra’s Saturday night performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem was unusually long and enthusiastic, even by Atwood standards.
The audience’s ecstatic response to the performance was prompted at least in part to the sheer magnitude of the group assembled onstage. Between the symphony, the Anchorage Concert Chorus, the Alaska Chamber Singers and the guest soloists, the number of performers topped 200, with a sound to match the size of their ranks. But ovations are not won by numbers alone, and it’s safe to say the accolades were due to the fact that the performance was just really good.
Randall Craig Fleischer led the symphony through a performance that, although not perfect, was nuanced, passionate and vivid. While the orchestra tended to take a backseat to the vocalists, that didn’t detract from the strength of the instrumentalists’ performances.
The challenges of playing with a chorus were evident in the first movement; the orchestra struggled to maintain a pianissimo and an even tone at the same time. They picked up momentum after the opening phrases, however, and blended nicely with the chorus’s very reverent, very warm sound. (These singers take the phrase “sotto voce” seriously, to lovely effect.)
It was hard to believe it was the same chorus that then launched full-bore into the famous allegro agitato passage from the “Dies irae” movement. All the musicians seemed to appreciate the power of that passage, which resurfaces several times in the course of the piece; every time it popped up, they drove it home, raw and forceful. It was intensely gratifying.
The four soloists (soprano Oksana Krovyska, mezzo Marlene Bateman, tenor Paul Mow and bass-baritone Stephen Morscheck) were well-matched, with voices that blend beautifully. Mow and Krovyska’s voices are both clear, almost angelic, while Morscheck transitioned from plaintive in the “Rex tremendae” section of the “Dies irae” to sinister in the “Lux aeterna” movement. Local favorite Bateman shone among the out-of-town talent, a vivid reminder of the high caliber performance Anchorage artists can deliver. Passages featuring all four soloists were thrilling; their voices melted into and out of one another with remarkable fluidity.
At the heart of it all was the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, fading into and out of the foreground as needed, at times stepping back to showcase the singers, at times joining the fray. There were a few minor issues with tuning, including in a couple of crucial moments, but on the whole the orchestra performed excellently, delivering a rich sound that heightened the power of the vocal performances. The short, vivid “Sanctus” movement in particular stood out as a complex melding of human and instrumental voices, the chorus split in two and winding through an eight-part fugue, the orchestra joining in with its own set of intertwining melodies, each voice retaining its integrity while contributing to a shifting landscape of sound.
"Requiem" repeats Sunday at 4 p.m.; Saturday's performance sold out but Sunday tickets were still available as of Saturday evening.