Miami Symphony takes flight in Faure

By Lawrence Budmen

Gabriel Faure

The Miami Symphony Orchestra offered a generous program Saturday night at Florida International University’s Wertheim Concert Hall featuring rarely heard versions of works by Gabriel Faure and guest soprano Eglise Gutierrez in arias from Italian and French operas.

Conductor Eduardo Marturet chose the original 1893 version of Faure’s Requiem. Scored for chamber orchestra without violins — except for one solo in the Sanctus, this edition presents the work in a darker, more intimate  context. Unlike the more dramatic requiem settings of Mozart and Brahms or the operatic grandeur of Verdi, Faure’s version is lighter and quintessentially Gallic. While there are full-throated choral outbursts, the score flows along on a gentle song-like wave. The famous Pie Jesu and concluding In Paradisum are expressions of peace and solace, far removed from the fire and brimstone of other versions of the mass for the dead.

From the opening bars, Wertheim’s magnificent pipe organ resounded splendidly, skillfully played by Mathew Steynor. In the Master Chorale of South Florida’s final program under departing director Joshua Habermann, the chorus was in less-than-peak form with the male voices sounding anemic and lacking in heft. The women’s voices were consistently impressive, however, especially in the soft tones floated during Faure’s lyrical flights. Marturet conducted with impressive drama and solidity, drawing and urgent intense reading and finely gauged dynamics.

Concertmaster Daniel Andai played with silken tone in his prominent solo. Soprano Rebecca Duren’s high, light voice encountered intonation problems in Pie Jesu. Jeffrey Wienand, recently impressive in Frost Opera Theater productions of Britten’s Albert Herring and highlights from Libby Larsen’s Frankenstein, was a secure, finely nuanced, baritone soloist. With the shimmer of low strings and harp and the chorus producing delicate pianissimos, the score’s conclusion was moving in its simple tranquility.

The program’s second half opened with the infrequently performed choral version of Faure’s Pavane. An elegant flute solo and beautiful choral singing propelled the piece’s sensuous melody, one of Faure’s most memorable creations.

Gutierrez, a former Miamian who now sings leading roles in major opera houses, offered a mini-recital of operatic excerpts. Opening with the final aria from Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Gutierrez spun a beautiful legato line but exhibited some strain in her upper range. The richness, depth and dark tonal beauty of the soprano’s middle and lower registers were a wonderful surprise, the voice continually maturing.

Gutierrez sung an enchanting Je marche sur tous les chemins and Gavotte from Massenet’s Manon, spinning the vocal line seductively, as well as a radiant bel canto turn in Casta Diva.

The soprano also conveyed the rapturous lyricism of Depuis le jour from Charpentier’s Louise, a distinctively Parisian brand of verismo. A dulcet account of Puccini’s O mio babbino caro and rapid-fire Sempre libera from Verdi’s La Traviata, replete with glittering filigree, were fine encores.

As an interlude between arias, Marturet led a soaring Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, the orchestra’s strings in full bloom.

The Miami Symphony Orchestra repeats the program 8 p.m. Sunday at Gusman Cultural Center in downtown Miami. 305-275-5666


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Sun May 1, 2011
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