ORONO — The Bangor Symphony Orchestra ended its Masterworks season with a program of French music that began with familiar orchestral suites by two giants of Impressionism, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The high point of the program, however, came after intermission, with Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem.”
The first movement of Debussy’s “Petite Suite,” “En bateau,” (on a boat) began gently, with a velvety string accompaniment for the beautiful melody in the winds.
Maestro Lucas Richman’s approach to the second movement was unhurried, allowing the various orchestrations of the repeated rhythmic motif to create pleasing contrasts. “Menuet” was delivered with charm and clarity of structure, the strings and winds giving way to one another. Only the first moments of the jaunty final movement seemed a little less than sure, but the waltz sections evoked a Viennese swagger.
Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” was another pure confection. While it was interesting to compare the two suites — both originally written for piano — by programming them back-to-back, that seemed unfair to both. The first three movements of the Ravel featured heroic playing by the woodwinds — especially the oboe — but the strings at times threatened to cover, and needed crisper definition. The energetic final movement, “Rigaudon,” was crisp and energetic, with lovely solo turns by the winds.
After intermission, the members of University of Maine Singers and the Oratorio Society joined the orchestra for Fauré’s “Requiem.” From the confident opening statement, the chorus delivered a secure, affecting performance, with precise diction and impressive control.
The “Offertorium” was taken at a faster tempo than indicated, allowing the altos and tenors to sustain the long even lines of their canon duet. The harp and strings gently accompanied the chorus in the ethereal “Sanctus” assisting with the quick transitions to and from the declared “Hosanna in excelsis!”
The robust tenor section was a little overpowered in the “Agnus Dei,” but the suspended soprano entrance at “Lux eternal” was nothing short of sublime. Richman uses silences to great effect, and the moment of pause before the restatement of the opening “Requiem aeternam” was gripping.
Bass baritone Andrew Wentzel sang with power and reserved emotion, his “Libera me” masterfully handled. Soprano Sarah Wolfson is endowed with a big, beautiful voice, but her singing of the “Pie Jesu” (which was sung at the work’s premiere by a boy soprano) was overly operatic.
Fauré ends the “Requiem” with a comforting message, and this performance evoked the “chorus of angels” in the closing text. Dr. Dennis Cox and Professor Ludlow Hallman deserve credit for their excellent preparation of the chorus.
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