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Giuseppe Verdi
16 Sep 2008

Prom 61 — Verdi's Requiem

The Verdi Requiem is a regular feature at the Proms, having appeared every few years in past decades, usually to full houses.

Prom 61 — G. Verdi: Requiem

Violeta Urmana (soprano), Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Calleja (tenor), Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (bass). BBC Symphony Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Jiří Bělohlávek (cond.)
Royal Albert Hall, 31 August 2008


This year it was the turn of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under their Chief Conductor Jiři Bělohlávek, along with the BBC Symphony Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus and a first-class line-up of vocal soloists.

What was truly remarkable, and frankly it should be something that can be taken for granted in high-profile professional performances, was the consistency in intonation and tone quality among the four soloists. They were big voices but there was not a wobble among them. The octaves between soprano and mezzo in the Agnus Dei were sung with such mutual sensitivity that the effect was almost one of a single voice (though ironically, the couple of bars where the two female voices are actually in unison revealed that they do not naturally blend). Joseph Calleja’s beauty and strength of tone made the Ingemisco searching and not in the least self-indulgent, while the pinpoint accuracy of Ildebrando d’Arcangelo gave the broken phrases of the Mors stupebit an authoritative finality which made the rests work at least as effectively as the notes.

Though Violeta Urmana's Libera me never quite sounded as though she was terrified for her mortal soul, the sheer power and accuracy of her delivery made for a hair-raising experience. Pace my reservations about this one-time mezzo’s ability to crown the orchestral sound with her top notes, even the quiet ones. Olga Borodina cancelled at short notice and was replaced by Michelle DeYoung, whose glinting mezzo in the Liber scriptus left the audience in little doubt that this WOULD be the fate in store for them.

For the Sanctus and Libera me fugues, Bělohlávek’s tempi were somewhat steady, perhaps due to the need to accommodate the substantial massed choral forces. As in many past performances of this piece, the trumpets of the Tuba mirum were arranged at various points throughout the Hall, with the third group being high up in the Gallery at the back; spatially it’s very effective, but musically it’s a mistake because of the sheer distance and resultant time-lag. They were never going to be in time with each other.

Generally, though, the orchestral sound was full and impressive, and the combined effort made for the finest and most powerful performance of the Verdi Requiem I can recall.

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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