Messa da Requiem
Tamar Iveri (soprano)
Ildiko Komlosi (mezzo-soprano)
Stuart Neill (tenor)
Orlin Anastassov (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 13 July, 2005
Venue: St Paul's Cathedral, London
Verdi’s Requiem was written under intense emotions provoked by the deaths of Rossini (in 1868) and Manzoni (1873), Italy’s greatest novelist at that time. Since then it has received many performances under the most intense of circumstances, notably the famous Serafin recording made in August 1939 on the eve of World War Two.
Verdi’s Requiem was the concluding event of this year’s City of London Festival and took place sub specie the recent terrorism in London and was dedicated to those who lost their lives and those injured and suffering loss. St Paul’s was full to capacity – several thousand people.
Given the heightened emotions of the occasion and the less than ideal venue – St Paul’s must have at least a seven-second reverberation period – it is difficult to comment dispassionately on the music-making. Indeed, the experience will have been different depending on one where was seated and also according to one’s emotional state. In the final “Libera me” the Georgian soprano, Tamar Iveri, gave a riveting operatic spectacle, eyes blazing, almost swooning as she acted out every word of the text. By contrast the other three soloists (Hungarian, American and Russian) sang with a studied composure and immobility.
The opening was quite magical, “Requiem aeternam” emerging from silence. However, the problematic acoustic meant that moments such as the opening of the “Dies Irae” made far less impact than one might have imagined, the bass drum hardly registering, whilst the detailed cross-rhythms of the “Sanctus” went for very little. That said, moments of stupendous choral beauty emerged unexpectedly from the acoustic haze, such as when the choir picked up the soloists’ line in the “Agnus Dei”. As a visual analogy, this was the musical equivalent of a Turner painting – an object viewed through the early morning mist. As far as one could tell, the LS Chorus sang with security and finesse.
The quartet of soloists were altogether more problematic. Individually they are undoubtedly all fine singers. The problem was they didn’t blend either tonally or stylistically, the massive tenor of Stuart Neill consistently drowning out his colleagues; singing solo he gave a fine “Hostias”. Orlin Anastassov at least had some of the qualities of depth one expects of a genuine Russian bass, but his “Mors stupebit” was hardly the blood-curdling moment it should be. When singing as part of the quartet he was only partially in the mix rather than the rock on which it was based. Ildiko Komlosi is a very fine singer; however, her voice lacks the Latin steel and passion, which would have enabled her to cut through the all-pervasive acoustic. On balance, literally, It might have been worth taking the risk of embedding the soloists in front of the choir rather than having them at the front, from where they frequently dominated.
Sir Colin Davis directed with his usual sure hand, his crisp beat to the spatial brass choirs eliciting a remarkably unanimous response under these difficult circumstances. Given the cavernous acoustic tempos were inevitably on the slow side and this made for sameness with tension occasionally sagging.
The last word must go to Tamar Iveri. The soprano bears the burden of the Requiem’s conclusion. Opinions will be divided over Iveri’s performance. I use the word advisedly because this was more than mere singing, although she did also manage to hit most of the notes. As one colleague put it afterwards, you almost expected her to blow out a candle at the end.
Verdi set the Requiem text under deep emotion – and on this occasion it received an impassioned rendition.