All of the scheduled soloists for this performance of Verdi’s Requiem studied at the Guildhall School of Music, but unfortunately Elisabeth Meister was unwell. Her place was taken at short notice by Jenavieve Moore, a student at the School’s Opera Course. Though she is at the outset of her career Moore has some experience of concert work in her native Canada, and if she felt nervous at the prospect of performing in the Barbican Hall there was no sign of this in her confident, composed demeanour or in her rendition. She sang most beautifully, especially in ‘Libera me’, the concluding movement of the Requiem, and was certainly not outshone by her colleagues. Derek Welton has a fine voice and excellent technique, and his contribution was notable too, as was that of Victoria Simmonds. In quieter passages the experienced tenor Adrian Thompson sang attractively, but when under pressure his voice sounded rather strained.
The Guildhall Symphony Chorus is a large body of singers, well trained by Linnhe Robertson, and it was a delight to hear the fresh young voices sing with such fine tone quality and expressive power. The orchestral contribution was first-rate too, with the array of platform and off-stage trumpets ringing out splendidly in the ‘Die Irae’ and the percussionist Dorothy Raphael clearly enjoying her opportunities here and elsewhere with splendid thwacks on the bass drum. As so often with young performers, there was a special quality of enthusiasm and commitment in the playing and singing, and the skill and execution was quite on a par with any fully professional performance you will hear.
None of this would have been possible under less than first-rate direction, and Mark Shanahan’s conducting was notable for its precision and clarity. In the more extrovert parts of the score the playing and singing was full of rhythmic vitality and energy, yet highly disciplined, and the ‘Domine Jesu’ and ‘Agnus Dei’ in particular were shaped with great sensitivity. We read that Shanahan has recently been appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, but surely here is yet another case of a British conductor who should be given more concert and operatic opportunities in his native land.
The performance was greeted with an ovation. It was a nice touch that at one point the three more experienced soloists stood back to let their young soprano colleague take a special bow. She certainly deserved it.