Verdi’s Requiem – Mariinsky/Gergiev at Barbican Hall

Messa da Requiem

Viktoria Yastrebova (soprano), Olga Borodina (mezzo-soprano), Sergey Semishkur (tenor) & Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)

Chorus & Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 4 April, 2012
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery Gergiev. Photograph: Marco BorggreveThe Mariinsky Opera troupe is certainly worked hard by its equally energetic Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Valery Gergiev: this performance of Verdi’s Requiem followed less than twenty four hours after one of the longest operas in the repertoire, Wagner’s Parsifal. It is to the credit of these ‘endurance’ musicians that these tough pieces came off: Verdi’s Requiem belongs with the theatre, requiring stellar singers and musicians that understand its theatrical qualities, and these musicians provided exactly that.

Gergiev led an account that leant towards the dramatic and away from the devotional, though it was rewarding nevertheless, despite feeling rushed. The greatness of this performance derived from the Chorus and Orchestra, who were unafraid to blaze. Whilst the calibre of soloists must be high, and mostly was, the exploration that this work afforded the Mariinsky ensembles paid huge dividends: the Chorus was thrillingly unanimous in exultant moments, and careful and clear with fugal writing. The Russian sound from the voices leant much weight to the Latin text.

The Orchestra’s playing was superb. In particular the brass had a burnished sound and the trombones, especially, produced a rounded timbre. Off-stage trumpets for the lead-up to the ‘Tuba mirum’ were fabulous and rousing: placed at the sides of the Hall; the stereo interplay worked magnificently. The Russian idiom was not an unwelcome presence in the reeded woodwind: bassoons managing to deliver plenty of emotion, and superb accompanists.

There was a strong quartet of vocal soloists complemented, their voices well matched, with just a few reservations. Ildar Abdrazakov’s dark and brooding bass impressed the most: during the ‘Dies irae’ he was just frightened enough, his sotto voce deployed to tingling effect. He ably mixed lyrical moments with weight, the ‘Confutatis maledictus’ devilish, other passages humbly delivered. Olga Borodina’s contribution was mixed: here was her familiar weighty Verdian voice, which opened out beautifully during the ‘Lacrimosa’. Earlier in the ‘Dies irae’ her conjuring of truly pathetic emotions (aided by those lyrical bassoons) prepared one for the journey ahead. However, sadly, her voice did suffer, and was underpowered. Sergey Semishkur never really went beyond the notes. Viktoria Yatrebova was similarly afflicted, though she was saving herself for the closing ‘Libera me’: her beautiful voice demonstrating pleading without desperation. The prolonged silence – more, please, London! – that was the response spoke volumes of what a great occasion this was.

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