Dominguez, Keeney Interpret Dark Solos with Arts and Sciences Orchestra

Colin Roshak, Staff Writer

Oberlin’s Musical Union, College Choir and Arts and Sciences Orchestra collectively plunged to the depths of calamity before reflecting soulfully on the nature of life after death in their program in Finney Chapel Sunday night. Jason Harris, director of Choral Ensembles and assistant professor of Choral Conducting, led the three ensembles in a rousing performance of Johannes Brahms’s agonized Tragic Overture before seeking emotional solace in the in the unearthly beauty of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem.

Musical Union debuted in 1837 and is the second-oldest choral ensemble in the United States. In the past, MU has presented concerts in which they performed works such as Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Joseph Haydn’s Creation and Sergei Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. This most recent performance of Brahms and Mozart featured four Conservatory students: double-degree fifth-year soprano Meryl Dominguez, senior mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker, senior tenor Daniel McGrew and double-degree fifth-year bass Aaron Keeney.

The program began with the Tragic Overture, whose title suits the tortured and turbulent character of the music. Brahms alternates between sweetly melancholic melodies in the winds and strings and assertive, blaring horn calls. The strings played high, soaring runs with confident virtuosity while the brass responded with excellently synchronized, biting chords. The orchestra as a whole maintained a powerful and textured sound throughout the duration of the piece. Despite the occasional cracked horn note or intermittent intonation mistake from a violinist, the ensemble succeeded in capturing the agony of the German master’s composition.

After the emotionally charged overture, MU and the College Choir joined the orchestra for the main portion of the concert: Mozart’s revered Requiem. The orchestra began the “Introit” with an intense yet subdued tone that provided an energetic soundscape for the choir’s entrance. The singers began with a strong forte before alternating skillfully between grand passages and softer, more introspective phrases.

The movement is constructed so that the orchestra introduces a musical idea that the choir echoes in response. The resulting dialogue between instrumentalists and vocalists became an increasingly dramatic back-and-forth which allowed each to reciprocate the other’s energy.

Dominguez sang a striking solo during this movement, her voice flowing effortlessly above the orchestra. Well-supported by the strings, Dominguez passed her melody through the first violins while maintaining a strong body and tasteful vibrato to her sound. Her diction remained comprehensible even despite the unfavorable acoustics of Finney Chapel.

The “Kyrie” proved to be much more of a challenge. The choir executed the difficult fugue well, but the lower voices struggled to maintain a consistent tempo during some of the more difficult passages. Mozart continues the fugue’s main subject with contrapuntal melodies in the sopranos, and on Sunday, the tension built between the different voice types until the very ending, when the movement came to an exuberant and dynamic climax.

A sequence of six shorter movements comprise the “Sequentia,” the third section of the Requiem: “Dies irae,” “Tuba mirum,” “Rex tremendae,” “Recordare,” “Confutatis” and “Lacrymosa.” The ensembles thrillingly executed the “Dies irae” despite its notorious difficulty. Both the orchestra and the choir performed with a solid pulse and demonstrated a thorough understanding of the somber text.

The trombone solo that heralded the beginning of the “Tuba mirum” began with trepidation as the soloist struggled with difficult intervals and intonation. Keeney, however, sang the responsive bass part with a deep and mature tone, blending well with the lower strings. Both Keeney and the trombonist displayed a clear appreciation of the grim musical subject. They communicated Mozart’s apprehension about the Christian Judgment Day to the audience with ease and grace, maneuvering through rising and falling lines with impeccable timing. All of the soloists sang with intelligible diction throughout the rest of the “Tuba mirum” as well as the “Recordare.”

Dominguez’s solo in the final movement provided a fitting conclusion to the evening’s performance. Her part reprises the material from the solo in the first movement of the Requiem, and Dominguez sang with the same precision and expressive musicality as before, marking the finale of an evening of extraordinary collaboration.