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Gabriel Faure in 1905
Gabriel Faure in 1905 (Paul Nadar)

The Requiems by Gabriel Faure and Maurice Durufle, composed about six decades apart, have much in common. The topic is dark, but not the attitude.

Unlike the bracing Requiems of Mozart, Berlioz and Verdi, gentleness and warmth reign in these two French works, generating a sustained eloquence. You could almost call them upbeat, but I guess that's not the most appropriate word under the circumstances.

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To open its 50th anniversary season, Baltimore Choral Arts Society performed the Faure and Durufle scores Sunday afternoon at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium. I don't recall hearing a finer concert by this chorus.

Technical matters -- articulation, tonal blend, smoothness of dynamic shifts -- were solidly under control, allowing concentration on expression. Guided sensitively by music director Tom Hall, the singers sounded totally connected to the ancient Latin text and the distinctive way each composer treated it.

The choir shaped the Gregorian Chant-based melodic lines of the 1947 Durufle score with admirable nuance. Pianissimo after pianissimo emerged beautifully. There was plenty of force when needed, too; the crescendo in the Sanctus had great impact.

Mezzo Janna Critz stepped out of the ensemble to deliver a supple account of the "Pie Jesu"; cellist Kristin Ostling's velvety solo in that movement added greatly to the balm. The rest of the orchestra offered elegant playing, as did organist Leo Wanenchak.

The concert's guest vocalist, baritone Jesse Blumberg, made telling contributions in the Durufle piece. He had more do in Faure's 1887 Requiem, and did it with considerable skill and taste.

The "Pie Jesu," among Faure's most sublime inspirations, found another chorus member in the spotlight, soprano Jessica Lynn. This Morgan State alum gave something of a star turn, bringing a pure, unforced, radiant tone to each phrase.

Other highlights included the soprano section of the chorus, which floated suitably divine pianissimos at the start of "In Paradisum." Orchestra (a few iffy violin notes aside) and organist again provided solid backing throughout Faure's remarkably poetic Requiem.

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