Players and singers join forces in Camden

The Mendelssohn Club lent its voices to Symphony in C's performance. Academy of Vocal Arts soloists sang, too.
The Mendelssohn Club lent its voices to Symphony in C's performance. Academy of Vocal Arts soloists sang, too.
Posted: February 07, 2012

Even if Symphony in C's Saturday performance of the Mozart Requiem wasn't everything one could dream of, it was a model in partnerships that makes fantasy possible. Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and a quartet of vocal soloists from the Academy of Vocal Arts joined the orchestra under its music director, Rossen Milanov, assuring professionalism that won't bust the budget. So what wasn't there to love?

The concert was titled "Unfinished Masterpieces," encompassing not just the Requiem (left incomplete at the composer's death) and Schubert's Symphony No. 8 (abandoned, probably when its performance opportunity dried up). Pairing these two works by Viennese composers, written only 31 years apart, made musical sense. Milanov had his way of underscoring that.

The incomplete state of the Schubert leaves more-than-usual interpretive leeway if only because the two surviving movements don't need to be balanced against what went unwritten. When the work is treated like a truly unfinished symphony, the first movement is fast and imposing; when treated as complete unto itself - Milanov's conception - the symphony emerged as a minor-key diptych that didn't require great differentiation in the two movements. The first was an apprehensive journey into the unknown, the second a study in resignation.

The performance had smallish orchestral forces, the haunting opening moments unfolding over a lean buzz created by a mere pair of double basses. The second-movement clarinet solo by Alexander Bedenko was deeply felt and beautifully phrased. Though the smaller forces allowed wind instruments to emerge as a stronger presence, Milanov blended the brass with the overall ensemble with Philadelphia Orchestra-style delicacy.

The acoustics in the Gordon Theater at Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts, good as they are, worked against the Mozart Requiem. The full-force Mendelssohn Club crowded the stage with upward of 120 singers, overloading the room with sound that acquired a harsh edge. Soft singing in "Lacrimosa" showed how luminous the choir's sound can be. Though reasonably attentive to the words, Milanov's conception of the piece seemed mainly symphonic, treating the voices as an augmentation of the orchestra. Or maybe not - perhaps details were blotted out by the amplitude of sound. And as the piece's later movements have less and less Mozart, a greater rhetorical commitment to the words was missed.

Soloists Alexandra Maximova, Margaret Mezzacappa, Zach Borichevsky, and Scott Connor were unusually well blended, Mezzacappa being a particularly clear beacon of meaning. Though the Requiem is often performed by amateur groups, this performance was probably as fine as one could hope for on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. But one hopes there will be another rehearsal before the repeat performance Sunday at Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia. (Information: www.mcchorus.org.)


Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.

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