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BWW Review, Part I: Part's MISERERE and Mozart's REQUIEM a Pair to Remember with Dudamel and LA Philharmonic

Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic.
Photo: Vern Evans

Early in May, Gustavo Dudamel--the brilliant music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic--was booed at the opening of TURANDOT at the Vienna State Opera purportedly for playing too loud.

Whether or not that was true--the Viennese have a reputation for acting badly on first nights--he had no such problem when he returned to his home turf, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, on May 20, with a grand, finely nuanced performance that paired the austere but marvelous MISERERE of Estonian composer Arvo Part with Mozart's REQUIEM. Part is said to revere Mozart--and the pairing of the two masters, born nearly 180 years apart, seemed inspired.

The MISERERE's text is Psalm 51--King David's anguished plea for forgiveness after he is confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba (having arranged the death of her husband). The musical values are simplicity and sublime. The composer's 21st-century minimalist style clearly begins with silence and adds notes only when necessary to make his voice heard.

The Gregorian chant-like beginning for tenor soloist and clarinets was mesmerizing. As the piece continued, hearing it in the vibrant acoustics of Disney Hall, was thrilling, with the essential participation of the choruses of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Kaspars Putnins and Latvian Radio Choir under Sigvards Klava, emphasizing the modernist energy and meditative power. The power of the organ blew me away.

It was amazing that Dudamel was able to bring together a quartet of singers that could easily flow from the Part to Mozart. The soprano Lucy Crowe (so distinctive in the Part), mezzo Roxana Constantinescu, tenor Paul Appleby and bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni--all well-known Mozartians--were bewitching in both (tenor Frederick Ballentine was an exciting addition to the Part). Their placement in the midst of the orchestra emphasized their roles as members of the greater ensemble.

The Mozart is, of course, a somewhat troublesome piece, with only the first two sections--the "Introitus: Requiem" and the "Kyrie"--completed as the composer unsuccessfully tried to outrun his death, with the rest left in draft form. It doesn't keep it from being outstandingly beautiful, particularly with the opening "Introitus" and its twin, the final "Communio: Lux aeterna," in addition to the marvelous fugue of the "Kyrie." I was struck by the way Dudamel brought out the vibrancy of the orchestra and chorus in the "Dies irae."

Even though it was unfinished--indeed, far from it--you can hear the pen of the master in the work finished by lesser hands, including his students Sussmayr and Eybler (and, to a lesser extent, Freystadtler). In particular, the music for the four soloists in the "Tuba mirum" section was exceptional, first with the animated duet between Pisaroni and the trombone, then with the echoes of DON GIOVANNI, written only several years before, making their appearance in the Don Ottavio-like music so elegantly sung by Paul Appleby, followed by the viola-like solo of Constantinescu and ending with the soaring soprano of Crowe.

This was no easy program for the audience to grasp on to--but it made perfect sense under Dudamel's firm baton and modest bearing, taking his bows with the ensemble, as one with them.

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