It had to happen, I suppose: being tasked to review a concert that is so close to perfection as to defy criticism. Perhaps this is a new disease: Critical Paralysis?
In a well-paced concert Thursday night performed without intermission in the relative intimacy of Neel Performing Arts Center in Bradenton, Anu Tali led the combined forces of the Sarasota Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and vocal soloists Pureum Jo, soprano; Sofia Selowsky, alto; Miles Mykkanen, tenor and Sam Handley, bass, in a riveting performance of one of Mozart’s most moving and puzzling works, the Requiem, K. 626.
Completed, more or less, in the last year of Mozart’s life, this composition has been the focus of years of dispute and scholarship over the extent to which Mozart’s work forms the basis of the mass. The saga began with a commission from an unknown benefactor, asking for a mass in memory of his young wife. Mozart, whose life was even more than usually chaotic at the time, procrastinated and completed only a small portion of the work, leaving notes and sketches to be completed after his death by his student, Franz Sussmayr, whose contributions were substantial, if largely unacknowledged.
None of these convolutions matter when hearing the completed work, even if certain repetitions of thematic materials seem contrived. The impact, both triumphant and prayerful, of this composition is often breathtaking, especially in this performance.
The orchestra, reduced to an appropriate size, and the choir were perfectly matched in achieving an impressive impact, and the soloists were similarly skillful in their controlled and lyrical contributions to the overall effect under the energetic and dramatic leadership of Tali, drawing thunderous applause after a dramatic moment of silence which brought the performance to an end.
The piece, which caused a scandal in its time, employs both traditionally worshipful musical language and anguished cacophony before returning to an extended reference to a familiar prelude by J.S. Bach, played with elegant sensitivity by Jonathan Spivey and the full resources of the Sarasota Orchestra.
Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks Concert, Anu Tali, conductor, with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and pianist Jonathan Spivey. Reviewed Feb. 23. Performances continue through Feb. 26 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets from $33. 941-953-3434; sarasotaorchestra.org