People sometimes ask me why they should spend money for a Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert when a recording costs much less (or the same, if you get a balcony seat). The answer came Friday in Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem: Patrons leaned forward intently when the composer had soloists praying and were blown back in Belk Theater seats when he unleashed the day of judgment. You heard things you’d never notice at home.
This 85-minute monument to poet Alessandro Manzoni can be too much of a good thing, if you’re not attuned to Verdi’s operatic style. (I mean “operatic” both musically and emotionally.) His harrowing Dies Irae section comes at you three times, even interrupting the soprano’s last request to be delivered from eternal death: The apocalypse is coming, and she’s waiting to see if God hoists her above the flames.
But if you love it, this performance will remind you why. The Oratorio Singers of Charlotte, superbly prepared by Scott Allen Jarrett, roar and whisper with conviction and vocal unity.
Conductor Christopher Warren-Green takes a measured view of the deceptively peaceful opening, whips up a fury on the day of wrath and then alternates between tenderness and power. Details emerge beautifully, from the silvery calm of violins at the end of the Offertorium to the snarling brass sounding the alarm of damnation.
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Each soloist had a specialty. Soprano Michele Capalbo floated lovely high soft notes in her attempts to get God’s ear. Mezzo Nancy Maultsby delivered an intense, dramatic “Liber scriptus,” warning us that “nothing shall remain unavenged” when the Judge opens his big book at last.
The bass gets the spooky, somber moments, and Burak Bilgili used his velvety tone to make them more ominous. Full-throated tenor Yegishe Manucharyan produced a handsome if steely sound but didn’t always connect with the meaning of his passages.
The CSO often ends Classics seasons with pieces that ennoble audiences: Sibelius’ Second Symphony in 2011, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in 2012, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in 2013. This year, Warren-Green picked music to terrify us, and it’s just as memorable in a thundering way.