Prom 72: 14th September 2001 – Verdi Requiem

Messa da Requiem

Fiorenza Cedolins (soprano)
Carolyn Sebron (mezzo-soprano)
Vincenzo La Scola (tenor)
Roberto Scandiuzzi (bass)

Chorus of Teatro Comunale di Bologna, London Voices, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Daniele Gatti

Reviewed by: Paul Hutchinson

Reviewed: 14 September, 2001
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

“May God have mercy”. The words of Daniele Gatti before he raised his baton to conduct this performance of Verdi’s masterpiece; at once, a timely and fitting tribute to the victims of the terrorist outrages in New York and Washington on 11 September – and a humble plea that we may survive the potential terrible consequences.

The ensuing performance turned was something of a curate’s egg – good in parts with a team of variable soloists; while the choral singing was generally admirable, there seemed, at times, a lack of smooth assembly between the Bologna visitors and London Voices. Gatti’s tempi, generally on the slow side, mistook ponderousness for prayerful dignity and solemnity.

A tentative start from the soloists in the ’Kyrie’, with the usually excellent Roberto Scandiuzzi sounding woolly and wobbly; although he overcame this and went on to deliver his solos with firmer tone. The ’Dies Irae’, with its wrathful anger, was taken at a deliberate, almost foursquare tread, but became fiery and awesome at the ’Tuba mirum’, given with tremendous resonance in the brass. A fitting warning to evil-doers. ’Quid sum miser’ found the soloists under par, although the Hall’s notorious acoustic did them no favours here. Truly marvellous brass and superb choral singing marked out the ’Rex tremendae’ as one of the highlights of the performance.

The ’Recordare’ always strikes this reviewer as one of the most poignantly beautiful sections of this Requiem. With its gentle, rocking accompaniment, it suggests a dark-hued painting of the penitent Mary Magdalene contemplating a crucifix, pleading for forgiveness and mercy. The soloists listened to each other and united as one in this gentle prayer. The ’Offertory’ section brought forth some unease in intonation from Cedolins, but the tenor, Vincenzo La Scola,sang the lovely ’Hostias’ with sweet tone, if without a trill.

The ’Sanctus’ is a big, bright and splendid outburst of joy to God; this performance had it all – inspirational choral singing and glowing, ringing brass.

Gatti’s penchant for slow tempi hindered the soloists in the ’Agnus Dei’. This very short prayer begs Christ, as the gentlest of creatures, the sacrificial Lamb, to grant eternal rest to the departed and to take away the sins of the world. Gatti’s hesitant conducting was felt more than anywhere else to dull the legato line – sluggishness in place of tranquil dignity.

The ’Libera me’ is the most overtly operatic section in a work famed for its theatrical expression. An image comes to mind of a pious Italian woman, her black shawl wrapped tightly around her, as she pleads to Heaven for deliverance from eternal death. It requires a singer with a voice capable of far-reaching dramatic expressiveness – both fervent and submissive. (No wonder Walter Legge begged Callas to be the soprano soloist in both of the studio recordings he produced!) Very few sopranos of my experience have ever approached this challenge. Cedolins, however, acquitted herself very well indeed, with sweet tone and a lovely top-note at the climax.

Verdi’s alleged agnosticism led him to end his setting of the Requiem Mass not with a bright, uplifted countenance, one certain of salvation, but with a soul, humble and contrite, pleading to be delivered – Libera me, libera me…

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