La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Howard Dyck Bids Farewell with Memorable Verdi Requiem

Photo: Howard Dyck

"I believe that the arts make us better people. I believe they enable us to transcend our own limitations, encourage us in our weaknesses and failures, and empower us in our pilgrimage in this vast, wondrous and kaleidoscopic adventure called life" - with these profound words that form the opening of his personal credo and clearly coming from the bottom of his heart, conductor Howard Dyck bade farewell to his beloved Grand Philharmonic Choir, where he served as the conductor for the past 38 years. There he was, standing in front of a full house filled with his colleagues, friends, and most importantly, a loyal audience, receiving a well deserved, prolonged standing ovation. It was a storybook finish to a long career.

The event celebrating Dyck's retirement was a performance of his beloved Verdi Requiem. The concert took place at Centre in the Square in Kitchener on Saturday evening. I have heard Dyck conduct this piece a number of times, and it was always wonderful. This time around, a terrific all-Canadian cast was assembled for the occasion, one that included soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, mezzo Marie-Nicole Lemieux, tenor John Mac Master, and bass-baritone Nathan Berg. From the softest, ppp opening, it was immediately clear that this was going to be a performance for the ages. The Grand Philharmonic Choir was in wonderful shape and they sang their hearts out for the maestro. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony also gave their all. Dyck brought his many years of experience and wisdom into the proceedings, shaping the score with utmost care, achieving the right balance in a performance full of fire and brimstone, but also pathos and lyricism. Hearing this performance was a musically rewarding as well as a spiritual experience.

The quartet of soloists was as balanced as one would likely find today. American-born Canadian soprano Radvanovsky has a true Verdi soprano voice born to sing this piece. Few singers alive today has her power, brilliance, wide range of dynamics, and sincerity of expression. It was simply the biggest soprano voice I have heard since the heydays of Regine Crespin and Gwyneth Jones, and our Sondra has better high notes than Crespin and a steadier, more beautiful sound than Dame Gwyneth. Radvanovsky's long breath in the long-held B-flat at the end of soprano-mezzo duet of Recordare - similarly in Domine Jesu - was stunning. But best of all was Libera Me. Her singing was incredibly beautiful in the quiet moments, and resplendent in the climaxes, complete with a huge high C sung over the chorus near the end, and the most exquisite pppp B-flat on the word "requiem" I have heard in many, many years. Quebec mezzo Marie-Nicole Lemieux has one of the most opulent contraltos in front of the public today. Despite the high tessitura, she had absolutely no problem with the music, rising to a high A effortlessly in Liber Scriptus. Her one-octave lower vocal line in Agnes Dei showed off her solid lower register, all sung without any pushing. Lemieux used to sing more in Toronto, but her visits are now rare. Let's hope the symphonies and the opera companies will bring her back as soon as possible! The two men - tenor John Mac Master and bass-baritone Nathan Berg - were also very fine. Mac Master replaced Richard Margison who was in Guangzhou, China to open their new opera house. Mac Master sang with plangent, warm tone, giving us an assured Ingemisco. He is of course no stranger to this piece, where his spinto timbre is ideal. I particularly loved the dolcissimo beginning of "Hostias et precis tibi Domine" - a wonderful moment. Nathan Berg is also an old hand in this music. His timbre has grown darker with the years and has the ideal gravitas in the bass solo Confutatis.

After the performance, the entire audience stayed behind for a tribute to Dyck. Luisa D'Amato, chair of the Board of the GPC, spoke most eloquently about Dyck's contribution to the organization, and to the musical life of the Kitchener-Waterloo region over the years. The mention that he is now Conductor Emeritus brought a round of enthusiastic applause. Eric Friesen brought Dyck to the podium where he delivered his beautifully written speech. It was a very touching moment indeed. Afterwards, the audience milled about in the lobby chatting with the soloists, and shook hands with Dyck and his wife Maggie in the receiving line. While we are sad that Howard Dyck has retired from the Choir, we can be sure that he will continue to make beautiful music in the future.

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