For its spring concert, featuring Verdi's grandiose Requiem Mass, the UW Choral Union, along with the UW Symphony Orchestra, were shifted from their usual base in Mills Hall on the campus to the greater cachet and capacity of Overture Hall. This was obviously a point of pride for conductor Beverly Taylor, to show off her forces, and to give added excitement to her performers.
But the decision was, I am genuinely sorry to say, a mistake.
The main problem is the Overture stage. From the hall's beginnings, it has been clear that the far upstage is a sonic trap, and a disaster for choral forces, whose sound is seriously handicapped in carrying over an orchestra. In this case, the chorus numbered 176 singers, the orchestra only 72 players. The latter played lustily Friday night, perhaps too much so, for they were allowed greatly to overbalance the chorus.
There was clearly a lot of powerful choral sound back there, and in the moments when the orchestra was soft or silent, we could hear that the sound was impressive. But most of the time, what came out to the audience was blurred and indistinct, with hardly any diction surviving. When the brasses entered into the mix, a dozen players could virtually obliterate 176 singers. (Also unhelpful, I believe, is the fashion for mixing choral singers of all parts amongst each other, instead of keeping them in sections - fine for training and rehearsals, perhaps, but creating a blobby homogeneity that weakens the part writing.)
All this is a pity - and I just hate having to write this kind of a review. Beverly Taylor is a splendid musician, who has a knowing and insightful command of Verdi's score. She also knows Overture Hall. But its quite skewed balances were simply an injustice to her chorus, whose strength and grandeur deserved proper projection. For all its failings and limits, Mills Hall always allows just that.
There were four guest soloists. The baritone, Tony Dillon, lacked the strength required in the bass solos, while tenor Aldo Perrelli's comfortable middle range became strained in the requisite upper levels. Stronger were the women. Soprano Shannon Prickett has a rich and strong voice, put to proper operatic use in the final "Libera me" section. Despite her smaller voice, mezzo-soprano Marion Dry particularly impressed me for her sensitively nuanced singing. In general, the soloists worked well together, standing safely in front of the orchestra, and their varied ensembles offered the most satisfying work of the concert.
Again, it is painful to say it, but what was a passably rousing concert could have been an extraordinarily exciting and uplifting one in other circumstances. To wit, it would have been better back in Mills.