BBC Proms 2022 – Verdi’s Requiem

Messa da Requiem

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), David Junghoon Kim (tenor) & Kihwan Sim (bass)

BBC Symphony Chorus
Crouch End Festival Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 15 July, 2022
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Verdi’s Requiem is no stranger to the First Night of the Proms and can work well in the cavernous and unpredictable acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall. What an individual looks for in a performance of this masterwork of the choral repertory is a personal one; this reviewer wants to find something revelatory – interpretive, choral or orchestral that makes the performance stand out afresh. Everyone wants that elusive perfect quartet of soloists, a chorus with fire, eloquence and great diction and above all a conductor and orchestra who can reveal the score’s felicities and sweep.

The audience took a while to really settle, meaning the hushed orchestral introduction was barely audible, but as soon as the murmured choral entry started things started to unfold. What was newly minted? Sakari Oramo’s reading steered a middle path, wasn’t overly Italianate, but had freshness, clarity and impact. The brass spatial effects were deftly managed, and the tempos set for the massed voices allowed the words to emerge without much congestion – notably in the ‘Sanctus’ which was paced to perfection. That revelatory moment was the end of the “Lacrymosa” section of the ‘Dies irae’ where the counterpoint melodies sung by the altos really sounded out against the dominant main tune first vocalised by the mezzo and then the bass. Great contribution from the combined choruses – warm, sprightly and every word crystal-clear. The ‘Pie Jesu’ followed organically, culminating in an expansive, dangerously close to indulgent, swell of an ‘Amen’.

The vocal quartet should have included Covid-struck tenor Freddie De Tommaso.  In his place was David Junghoon Kim, who started the ‘Kyrie’ in an overly robust and operatic way but who later settled to produce some lovely, honeyed tone as well as fervour in the ‘Hostias’. His singing of the ‘Ingemisco  tamquam reus’ was also impressive, and would have been more so had not the lighting technicians abruptly flicked the ‘fiery-red background effect’ switch just before its conclusion – a major and unwarranted distraction. Kihwan Sim’s fluid and attractive bass seemed a tad lightweight for this part and he sounded occasionally wayward of pitch. He’s clearly a talent to watch though. Jennifer Johnston was the warm-voiced mezzo; less dramatic, more restrained than some but wholly valid and appealing. She was the lynchpin of the quartet in their sole ensemble. However, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha made both a stunning and auspicious appearance. With bags of appeal and temperament she soared and declaimed as if possessed, and rode the huge forces behind her with consummate ease leaving us marvelling at the sheer opulence and potential of her voice.

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