“Balance is everything.” That certainly applied to last weekend’s performance of the Mozart Requiem by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, the Knoxville Choral Society, and soloists, led by Maestro Lucas Richman, in which all involved worked earnestly for balance and, for the most part, succeeded magnificently. The Requiem, though, is a complex and arduous mix of both the delicately mournful and the thunderously optimistic that seeks to assuage abstract grief and sorrow. Balancing the emotional, the theatrical, and the technical in a live performance in a large hall is a daunting challenge.
With the large number of voices of the Knoxville Choral Society, a performance such as this becomes a battle of strengths and a war of dynamic control. I have always been impressed with how the KCS can maintain excellent diction and balance with such a large group …but they do, notwithstanding the issue of being high in the air at the rear of an acoustic shell. I can verify that this placement uncannily benefits the balcony patrons of the Tennessee Theatre to the detriment of those on the floor. Impressive, too, was the chorus’s alert responsiveness to Richman’s calls for dynamics, particularly in the latter movements.
Of course, Mozart, and his “completion-ist” Süssmayr, did not make it easy on orchestral players and orchestral balance. The reduced complement of winds—clarinets and bassoons; and trumpets and trombones—are tasked with the unusually heavy burden of subtly balancing exposed harmonies throughout the piece. In the opening “Requiem” movement particularly, but continuing overall, the clarinets and bassoons were gorgeously aligned. The trumpet and trombone balance in places was not as successful. The trombone solo in the “Tuba mirum” was, unfortunately, a bit clumsy.
The “Lacrimosa,” with its sudden dynamic shifts and crescendos, was the perfect example of stunning simplicity that really isn’t simple at all. The multiple layers of continuous movement, including those from the violins, and the multiple rhythms added to the luscious Mozartian choral harmonies were beautifully executed. Although we are told that Mozart himself completed only the first eight bars of the “Lacrimosa”, Süssmayr’s touch, if any, seemed transparent.
The soloists in the Requiem (Jennifer Barnett, soprano; Lorraine DiSimone, mezzo-soprano; Andrew Skoog, tenor; and Andrew Wentzel, bass) were all individually superb in terms of tone and diction, but had varying degrees of success in projecting from their place at the very edge of the stage apron just outside of the acoustic shell. Nevertheless, listeners were willingly drawn into their emotional performances in every case.
Richman opened the evening with the Symphony No. 4 in D minor, op. 120, of Robert Schumann. This was the revised version of 1853; neither Schumann nor his audience had cared for the original of 1841, and it had been set aside, although it was later resurrected and performed. The reorchestrated D minor symphony stands apart from the original in that editing and condensation led to a denser, more opaque work, in which ideas and textures seem piled on one another. This heaviness, though, can weigh down a performance—the KSO performance teetered on the brink of being too ponderous without enough contrasting relief. The work seems to cry out for a lighter approach, with crisp dynamics and attention to softer nuances, to compensate for the substantial sonic heft.