Classical Music & Dance

Kansas City Symphony’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem is dramatic, intense, affirming

The Kansas City Symphony performs in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The Kansas City Symphony performs in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Star file photo

The Kansas City Symphony performance Friday of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem resounded with urgency. The Symphony Chorus and guest soloists joined in for a monumental performance.

Michael Stern conducted the massive ensemble, almost 300 people packed onstage and in the choir loft. The heft and intensity of those forces proved impressive, but more so were the subtler moments, the quiet entrances and lingering releases. The performance nearly sold out Helzberg Hall on Friday.

Verdi, who scorned religious posturing, created a work that encapsulated spiritual feelings. His operatic prowess was evident in the melodies, contrasts and colors, even though these elements brought initial criticism because they were within the context of a liturgical work. Nevertheless, its message and masterful setting continue as a staple.

The soloists presented distinctive, passionate performances. Soprano Amber Wagner transcended the ensemble while maintaining ease throughout, clearly relishing the role. Her “Libera Me” was instantly captivating and continued with exceptional moments.

Wagner blended beautifully with mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, whose rounded tone delivered both florid and declamatory lines well.

Tenor Dimitri Pittas offered a personal approach, his impassioned solo in “Ingemisco” embellished with gesture and a slight smile of hope. Bass Jordan Bisch was resonant, though his stage presence felt less assured, less focused when not singing.

The chorus sang with the concentration of an artistic hive mind. The fugal sections were generally clear and balanced. In the lively Sanctus, they generated a gradual and effective energy with every “Hosanna.”

Not least of all, the orchestra displayed its full range of color, dynamic and emotion. The cellos established a pensive quality with the opening pianissimo motif. This was driven off with the first ferocious moments of the “Kyrie eleison.”

The flute and bassoon sections, especially, shone in bubbling, winding lines. The trumpet fanfare of the “Tuba mirum” percolated into a powerful tutti fortissimo.

While the “Dies Irae” undoubtedly had the audience members pushed to the back of their seats even in the highest level, it was the whispery fervency that most impressed. Verdi’s drama came from growth, flourishes and sudden decays, and this performance captured it all.