Two Utah conductors, one who has recently worked with the English choral composer John Rutter and another who is about to study with him. Between them they offered local audiences not one but two full-scale mountings of his Requiem this past weekend, and more besides.
Quite a bit more in the case of Will Kesling, director of choral studies at Utah State University, who a year ago helped prepare the choruses for the world premiere of the Rutter Magnificat in New York. Last December he brought that work home to USU, for the western-states premiere, and Friday to Symphony Hall as part of a program dubbed "Canticles of Praise" that, besides the two Rutter works, included the better-known of Vivaldi's two D major Glorias (the R. 589) - a long evening but a satisfying one.Like the Requiem, and his own setting of the Gloria, I suspect the Rutter Magnificat is going to catch on fast. At around 45 minutes, it is more drawn-out than either. Plus which to my ears its two major soprano arias, in the "Et misericordia" and "Esurientes," come dangerously close to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The exuberance of the outer sections, however, with their joyous commingling of voices, strings, brass and percussion, are hard to resist, coupled with the lyrical melodic contouring that has won the composer audiences worldwide, even if it has kept him well off the cutting edge of contemporary choral writing.
Here it came in for a heartfelt performance, ranging from the subdued shimmer of the second section, "Of a rose, a lovely rose" - like so much of Rutter, very English with a light French accent - to the Waltonian flourish of the final "Amen."
Certainly the men of the Northern Utah Choral Society and the USU Chorale showed their mettle in the triumphantly scaled "Quia fecit mihi magna" and vigorous "Fecit potentian," with its angular harmonies. And although soprano Marjo Burdette might have been stronger in places, the soothing "Et misericordia" and "Esurientes" found her at close to her best.
She also proved an affecting soloist in the Requiem. But what lifted this performance above the ordinary, apart from Kesling's comprehending leadership, was the choral singing, provided by the choirs of Mountain View, Sky View, Weber and Woods Cross high schools.
Only toward the end did their youthful voices lose a little in luminosity. Elsewhere, though, the lift and transparency of their singing, together with their crystal-clear enunciation of the text, accorded beautifully with Kesling's expansive shaping of the score. As did the playing of the Utah Chamber Orchestra, particularly the harp and, in "The Lord is my shepherd," the wonderfully atmospheric oboe solo.
As for the Vivaldi Gloria, the standout here was arguably Mary Wescott, whose firmly placed contralto encompassed the writing with ease. By contrast the choir, drawn from American Fork, Grace, Logan, Malad and Snake River high schools, seemed a mite thin in spots, in an otherwise acceptably scaled rendition that came up nicely for the fugal episodes. I wonder, though, why Kesling opted for a synthesizer continuo, when, given this wonderfully diverse music's churchly origins, an organ would almost certainly have been used in Vivaldi's day.
- THE WEEKEND'S OTHER Rutter Requiem came from the American West Symphony & Chorus, whose conductor, Terrell Lamoreaux is off to London for three years to study with the composer. That was the occasion for a tearful farewell Saturday in the Temple Square Assembly Hall (complete with a plaque for the conductor) and an equally heartfelt reading of the score.
What it did not have was the architectural strength or instrumental security of Kesling's. Nor was it helped by the mood-shattering applause that came between nearly every section. The cello (in "Out of the deep") and timpani registered strongly, however, as did the sheen and controlled fervor of the choral contribution. Especially the Brahmsian effulgency (by way of Vaughan Williams) they and their director brought to the concluding "Lux aeterna."
Earlier he and the orchestra offered a well-intentioned but nonetheless effortful reading of Nielsen's "Helios" Overture and a truly elephantine realization of Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 8. Against that, I will chose to remember them by the Rutter. And my guess is, during the next three years at the latter's elbow, their conductor will, too.