- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

On Sunday afternoon as Takoma Park’s excited youngsters were gearing up for trick-or-treat, the Catholic University’s Symphony Orchestra and Chorus were tuning up for an impressive concert at the Sligo Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Carroll Avenue.

The combined ensemble presented two lengthy French works, Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem,” Op. 48, and the massive “Organ Symphony” (Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78) by Camille Saint-Saens.

Increasingly popular among area choral groups, the Faure Requiem, set to the Latin text of the old Roman Catholic funeral Mass, lacks the power, grandeur, and occasional violence of similar works penned by Brahms, Verdi or even Mozart. Faure chose to take a different approach entirely to this ancient funeral rite, reducing the centrality of the stormy “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”) text to evolve a sublimely peaceful commemorative focused less on the Final Judgment than on the gentle release of a human soul to the realm of the angels.

The ensemble dedicated its performance of this work to the memory of faculty member Anthony Stark, a professor at the University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, who passed away on Aug. 31.

Under the baton of Leo Nestor, the orchestra and chorus acquitted themselves professionally although one might have preferred a few more decibels on the short, contrasting “Dies Irae” — that single, brief interruption of the work’s otherwise contemplative mood.

Elsewhere, the tenor and soprano sections occasionally had difficulties maintaining altitude when singing Faure’s long and leisurely melodic lines.

The work’s brief solo opportunities produced mixed results. A hat tip to soprano Keesun Kwon whose brief “Pie Jesu” (“Merciful Jesus”) was warmly imbued with great feeling. Baritone Brian Lilley and bass baritone Brian Cali sang nicely as well — when they could be heard. Both seemed a bit uncertain of the building’s acoustics and at times were barely audible.

Nonetheless, the entire ensemble performed on a professional level, particularly the orchestra’s string section — often a glaring weakness in university symphonies. And the work’s concluding “Chorus angelorum te suscipiat” (“May the choir of angels receive you”), with the sopranos drifting like a divine mist out over the orchestra, proved extraordinarily effective.

The second work on the program, Saint-Saens’ popular “Organ Symphony” was given a crisp and vigorous performance with Kate Tamarkin at the orchestra’s helm. Subdivided into two main sections whose motion and moods basically conform to the standard symphonic structure, Saint-Saens’ symphony careens from moments of moodiness to sparkling outbursts of wit and humor before wrapping things up with a grand, massive orchestral scale underlined by the organ’s huge bass pipes.

The orchestra showed great poise in this often challenging work, negotiating its complexities with aplomb, save for an occasional glitch in the horn section. The symphony presents a real workout for the strings, particularly in the “Presto” section.

But again, the orchestra’s young string players were obviously well-rehearsed. Organist Edward Allan Moore, a Catholic University faculty member who also performed in the Faure, did a fine job blending his huge instrument into the fabric of the work as the composer intended.

**1/2

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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