One thing you learn not to miss if possible is the annual Brigham Young University department of music spring concert, which is consistently a highlight of the Temple Square concert series.
Displaying by far the biggest music department in the state, Saturday's concert had the luxury of vast numbers that filled the entire choirloft and an augmented orchestral stage. And numbers are indeed an advantage, when comprised of outstanding talent, wel-disciplined and stimulated by inspiring conducting. Add to this an unusual, challenging program, for one of BYU's finest evenings on the Square.The Durufle Requiem is seldom performed, and one wonders why not, for this gentle yet dynamic music speaks with a familiar spirit whenever one hears it. The Durufle is often compared to the Faure Requiem, whose kindred it certainly is, not only in its distinctly French sheen, but in the hopeful, serene tenor of music that refrains from belaboring the fearful Dies Irae (day of judgment).
But Durufle's style is often quite spare, cleaving closely to the authentic plainsong employed throughout - a style that demands intensity from singers. And Wilberg was masterful in keeping the chorus focused on its message, whether delivering a supple, shining thread of melody, or expanding into more resplendent harmonies.
The dynamic range of both singers and orchestra was remarkably wide, from barely audible pianissimos to thundering climaxes in the golden Hosanna and the dramatic Libera me. And balance was so good that one often felt the instruments and singers functioning as one - all part of a breathing, connected, cohesive flow of music.
Baritone David Warner performed well the tiny work allotted to him, and mezzo Martha West had the ideal timbre, weight and expressiveness for the lovely Pie Jesu. But for some reason, BYU prefers to put its soloists behind the orchestra and mike them. They'd have more impact out front on their own.
Turning to orchestral emphasis, Clyn Barrus led the "Daphnis and Chloe" Suites 1 and 2, which Ravel devised from his 1912 ballet for Diaghilev. One can ill imagine this colorful, heavily orchestrated music as a ballet score, particularly one of classic Grecian theme. Inevitably it has ended up where it belongs, on the concert platform, and it was impressively performed by student forces on Saturday night.
More familiar is the second suite with its beautiful daybreak, dawning fold on emotional fold, and the playful pantomime that gives way to a dance of exultation, filled with the brilliant, clashing colors and exciting dissonances of a master orchestrator. But the first suite has its moments too, notably in the nocturne with its evocative wind machine, and the vocal interlude for women, surging like waves of the sea.
The wind instruments, particularly the woodwinds and flutes, tossed off the assorted melismatic bird calls and pan pipes of the music effortlessly, and never was a horn heard to fluff; harp glissandos were beautiful, cello melodies richly poured forth, runs were clean and clear, colors almost palpable. This music was consummately played, beyond what one would have suspected students could do, both technically and emotionally.