Messa da Requiem
Christine Brewer (soprano)
Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano)
Stuart Neill (tenor)
John Relyea (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 11 January, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
With the players of the London Symphony Orchestra on dazzlingly extrovert form, Sir Colin Davis unleashed an urgently dramatic and full-blooded reading of Verdi’s “Requiem” (given in memory of Richard Hickox). This was very much a reading on an operatic model rather than a devotional one, and yet all the depth of feeling enshrined within the text of the Requiem Mass was given full-rein.
Tempos were generally on the forward-moving side and from the orchestra there was a blaze to the sound and a vibrancy that was absolutely gripping. The brass section was at its best, the off-stage players confined to doors to the side of the hall where they could easily see Sir Colin. Thus the fanfares leading up to the ‘Tuba mirum’ had absolute precision, and if the orchestral tumult at that point threatened to overwhelm and engulf the lusty singing of the London Symphony Chorus then that is surely appropriate for that moment. The woodwind soloists also made their mark and one was acutely aware of the important role of the timpani and bass drum in the repeated ‘Dies irae’ passages.
Verdi’s “Requiem” is one of the rewarding staples of the choral repertory, the London Symphony Chorus relishing its chance. The men were on lusty form and all sections delivered rich and full tone. The whispered intonation of “Libera me, Domine” were excellently done, matching Christine Brewer’s lead. It was a slight shame therefore that the placing of these singers in sections rather than as two distinct choruses meant that the double-choir interplay of the ‘Sanctus’ did not register in all its detail as it sometimes can.
Naturally, much of the impact of this particular setting of the Requiem text depends on the contributions of vocal soloists and here was a quartet of strength and individualism. Christine Brewer proved herself a passionate soprano, by turns intensely dramatic and lightly ethereal. She played-off the text and was as impassioned a supplicant as one would have hoped for. Her final “libera me” was both questioning, pleading and heartfelt – and no doubt a contributing factor to the stunned silence that initially greeted the conclusion of the performance. As always with Brewer there is never any doubt that her fabulous technique and breath-control will make light of the trickiest passages and that blemishes never mar the richness and vibrancy of her voice and her sense of line. So it was here. She also has enough punch in the lower reaches of the part to make maximum impact. She really should sing further middle- and late-Verdi roles.
Originally she was to have been partnered by the luscious and forthright tones of Larissa Diadkova – an enticing prospect. However, the Russian contralto’s late cancellation brought the substitution of the extremely versatile Karen Cargill. What Cargill lacks in terms of possession of a weighty and open Verdian mezzo voice is more than compensated for by dint of her finely nuanced vocalism and subtlety of interpretation. She blended perfectly with Brewer in the ‘Agnus Dei’, and the dovetailing of their respective lines in the ‘Lacrimosa’ was beautifully judged. Her singing had a refreshing individuality of utterance.
Stuart Neill’s virile and forthright tenor was heard to great effect in the more dramatic outbursts, and if the ‘Ingemisco’ was slightly ungainly his hushed voicing of the ‘Hostias’ was perfectly judged. He was the only one of the four soloists singing without a score, and therefore it was slightly surprising that his singing seemed ultimately to lack the final degree of passion so evident in his colleagues.
John Relyea took the tricky bass part. There was no doubting his commitment, and in the more lyrical passages such as those of the ‘Offertorium’ his singing was fluid and beautiful, touched with appropriate grit to the tone and gravity. The more declamatory passages, in particular those very low-pitched and repeated “Mors” were not ideally focussed, sounding slightly insecure and tremulous.
The Barbican Hall was packed and the reception (after the prolonged silence) enthusiastic. The performance was recorded for LSO Live.