CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Conductor Grant Cooper is, for all the precision he brings to his conducting, an emotionalist, using his considerable technique to probe the expressive depths of music.
At the Clay Center Friday night, the West Virginia Symphony explored tragic works by Mozart, Wagner and Brahms before a crowd limited by the snowy weather.
Mozart's Requiem, in its version by Franz Baier, featured the combined choruses of the orchestra and Marshall University, both prepared by its conductor, David Castleberry, along with soprano Janet Brown, mezzo soprano Mariel van Dalsum, tenor Gerald Gray and baritone Timothy LeFebvre.
The piece is a serious challenge to a conductor.
The scoring is mostly opaque, probably because of someone other than Mozart completing it but maybe because of its retro, quasi-baroque textures.
Cooper struck apt balances between the choral forces and the classical-sized orchestra of reduced strings, basset horns (an alto-ranged clarinet), bassoons, trumpets, timpani and a trio of trombones.
The chorus was inspired throughout -- one is tempted to say that Marshall's athletic teams should be this good.
The fugue of the Kyrie had clean lines and vocal substance. The Dies Irae was dramatic and powerful while the Confutate maledictus showed that Cooper could draw lyrical singing from the chorus suspended over churning rhythmic tension.
The soloists were fine.
Brown, a longtime collaborator with Cooper, has an intimate way with phrasing, drawing the listener easily into the work's opening Requiem aeternam.
The vocal quartet sang with excellent blend and expressiveness in the Tuba mirum. LeFebvre was a bit grainy sounding at the start but sounded less forced as he sang on. Gray showed gentle warmth in the upper range while van Dalsum and Brown sang limpidly.