How do you avoid purple prose when reviewing a splendid concert?
Answer: It’s not easy, and that’s the theme of this column.
The concert in question is last weekend’s “The Dream Lives,” jointly performed by the Durango and Telluride Choral Societies.
The title referred to the major work on the program: David Lingle’s “Requiem for Eagles.” In many ways it was a requiem for Lingle himself. He died in 2013 before completing the work.
For close to 20 years, Lingle conducted the Telluride Choral Society and was a beloved member of that community. On more than one occasion, he collaborated with Durango’s inimitable Linda Mack-Berven and Durango singers. So in many ways, the twin October concerts were bittersweet events.
After Lingle’s death, Dalen Stevens, a longtime friend and musical colleague, came upon the unfinished manuscript and spent two years adapting it for chorus and orchestra.
Last weekend’s performances in Durango and Telluride finally brought “Requiem for Eagles” to life. Let’s hope it is the beginning of a long performance history.
The 45-minute work generally follows the outline of a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass with exceptions. Sung mostly in Latin, it opens with a brief organ and orchestral introit set in a minor key which lays out a deceptively simple rising and falling motif. Listen closely and the motif returns in different guises throughout the work.
When the chorus enters singing in Latin, the text presents the idea of eternal rest and perpetual light. When the music shifts into a major mode, the chorus sings the Greek supplication – kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy – in crisp descending lines. The contrast makes a stunning effect, especially when the Kyrie ends in a clean, unison line.
Six sections follow: Offertory, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei and Libera Me, some bursting with dissonant energy, others expressing serene beauty.
The Requiem concludes with an ethereal “In Paradisum,” unconventionally sung in English. The key phrase, “Where you fly, I will follow,” also breaks away from the traditional Catholic form by expressing Native American beliefs centered on nature.
At Friday night’s concert, the orchestra consisted only of woodwinds, brass and C. Scott Hagler at the organ. Sunday in Telluride, I’m told, strings enhanced the ensemble. Either way, the small orchestra provided ample color and texture for the huge, 90-voice chorus.
Mack-Berven concluded the concert with a very spare interpretation of the Navajo prayer: “Now I Walk in Beauty.” What a wise choice – to end a momentous, deeply-moving concert with a simple and serene work.
So there’s my high praise, and I didn’t use the words “terrific, marvelous or wonderful” once. But this review hasn’t gone through my customary editing passes. I begin with checking facts, punctuation, spelling, verbs for variety, adjectives for excess – the so-called purple factor, deadly clichés, and finally, tone.
I do all that before I send it to my editor, David Holub. It’s only fair.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.