Berlioz was no philosopher. He was a red-blooded romantic and attacked the business of writing a requiem with a gusto fortified by 16 trombones and 12 tympany not to mention five orchestras and about 200 singers.
What the Cathedral Choral Society achieved yesterday in their performance of the Requiem at the Washington Cathedral was a grand re-creation of this romantic spirit.
With members of the National Symphony deployed at the four points of the compass as prescribed by the composer, Paul Callaway led a well-coordinated performance that had moments of hair-raising excitement.
Berlioz was a master orchestrator and, better than most, knew how to score for chorus and orchestra so that the chorus could be heard.
The Choral Society rose to the occasion nobly, singing the a cappella and almost a cappella passages with a beauty marred only by pitch problems in the tenor section. And tenor soloist Gene Tucker gave a distinguished account of the lyrical "Sanctus."
Berlioz himself reported that, at its premiere, one of the choristers suffered a nervous breakdown under the impact of the "indescribably terrible effect" of the massive sounds. Feeling the tympany and the trombone pedals yesterday, one can almost understand why.