While during most concerts Helzberg Hall’s Casavant organ serves as a stunning visual backdrop, it is a spectacle to witness the power and dimension that this magnificent instrument adds, especially at the hands (and feet) of one of the instrument’s greatest performers.
The Kansas City Symphony, conducted by artistic director Michael Stern, performed with noted organ virtuoso Paul Jacobs this weekend. The Friday concert presented a large forces production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem.
Trading big chord for big chord in a commanding opening sequence, Jacobs impressed as soloist on Alexander Guilmant’s Symphony No.1 for Organ and Orchestra.
Jacobs led by example, the organ nearly always at the forefront of the limited thematic material, layering, trading, and subverting lines in intricate fugal passages, emphasizing the instrument’s timbral variety. While the full throttle passages stunned, the softer moments — with the solo line sounding nearly magical, supported by tutti cellos, or the violins playing in sweet response to the organ’s thick, reedy tone — were the performance’s defining features.
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"Do you like Bach?" Jacobs shouted from the console loft. He then launched into a fine fugue for his encore, demonstrating again his capable footwork, dynamic nuance, impeccable dexterity and subtle theatrical sense, rousing the audience instantly to a second extended bout of applause, and acknowledging the instrument during his bows.
Following intermission was Mozart’s monumental Requiem, a fascinating, cherished work of both dramatic and spiritual sophistication as well as serving as consolation during solemn occasions through the centuries, including Mozart’s own funeral. The score left unfinished at the time of his death, the ensemble performed Robert A. Levin’s completion.
The orchestra was joined by the Kansas City Symphony Chorus, soloists, and organist Jan Kraybill. The 160-member Chorus sounded seasoned, capable of fiery intensity for the Dies irae, vibrant forte statements in the Rex tremendae and Domine Jesu, and the precision and nuance necessary to keep the fugal sections luminous and progressing.
The soloists made a fine quartet. Soprano Joélle Harvey had an effortless quality to her tone and trill and mezzo Aleksandra Romano’s voice was sensitive and rich, while tenor Andrew Stenson’s bright tone contrasted with Wei Wu’s majestic bass and stentorian delivery.
Caught between supporting the heft of the chorus and balancing with the soloists, the orchestra overplayed some moments, but generally achieved a cohesive ensemble, with attuned emphasis from trombones, gilding the vocal line, and prominent low strings driving the pulse.
Stern cut off the final cadence with his hands lifted up, as though flinging the resonance into the air, a touch of drama that Mozart — at least in the concert setting — would have surely approved.