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Boro classical groups team up for ‘Requiem’

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Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) told the audience at Queensborough Community College on Sunday that it had been her father’s dream that Queens residents should never have to cross a bridge or drive through a tunnel to experience great music.

That dream was a reality Sunday, as the Queens Symphony Orchestra — founded by Katz’s father exactly 50 years ago — joined forces with the Oratorio Society of Queens, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, to present Giuseppe Verdi’s massive and awe-inspiring “Requiem.”

The piece, properly performed, is a soul-wrenching experience, combining the power and mystery of the Latin mass for the dead with theatricality and dramatic tension that are the hallmarks of a master of grand opera.

QSO Music Director Arthur Fagen led the orchestra and chorus in a stirring rendition, commanding effective dynamic contrasts and evoking a strong sense of line and flow from the players. He was master of the complex orchestral and choral forces in the difficult Sanctus and the soul-shaking Dies irae, even if the chorus’s consonants were not always together and fast string runs were at times inexact.

The orchestra’s brass section provided adequate firepower for the “Requiem’s” explosive sections. The players held together well during the antiphonal Dies irae section, where trumpets placed in the rear of the hall blended with the main orchestral brass to raise a stirring climax.

The four vocal soloists all performed well, but the bass-baritone Alfred Walker shined most brightly, complementing a deep, mellow tone with captivating stage presence and intelligent sensitivity to the text. He was at his best during quiet moments, such as the brief interlude in Lux aeterna, when he intoned “Requiem aeternam” — “rest eternal” — to the accompaniment of quiet brass chords, low and chilling.

But Walker’s voice — which seemed better suited for chamber repertoire — was at times insufficiently projected. Tenor Eduardo Villa, on other hand, had a strong, powerful voice, but strained when he approached the high end of his range. Mezzo-soprano Hadar Halevy showed great sensitivity, and soprano Ai-Lan Zhu overcame an outsized vibrato to turn in a compelling performance.

The Oratorio Society was excellent, at all times perfectly in tune, with good attention to dynamics and enunciation. Sadly, their sound was overpowered during loud sections by the orchestra.

Sadder still, however, was the failure to sell out the small Queensborough Community College auditorium. Sunday afternoon was an unusual opportunity, not simply to hear two of Queens’ most respected and venerable performing ensembles, but to experience one of the great masterpieces of the orchestral and choral repertoires. It appeared that many of the borough’s residents missed that opportunity.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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