Verdi Requiem

Messa da Requiem

Barbara Frittoli (soprano)
Daniela Barcellona (mezzo-soprano)
Giuseppe Filianoti (tenor)
Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass)

BBC Symphony Chorus
City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus

BBC Philharmonic
Gianandrea Noseda

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: 28 August, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

It was the Royal Albert Hall which housed the first London performance of Verdi’s Requiem on 12 May 1875, where it was received less enthusiastically than it had been elsewhere.

Since then it has become one of the staples of the repertoire for British choral societies of various and variable qualities, but this performance was of a very high order indeed. It bespoke careful preparation and, perhaps above all, thorough engagement and empathy on the part of the conductor.

Gianandrea Noseda seemed intent to minimise the perceived ‘operatic’ qualities of Verdi’s setting; not that there was any want of drama – far from it – but one was struck by how quiet much of this music is and how, in places, unutterably sad it is. Thus histrionics and cataclysm were placed in context – and the more effective they were for it.

The opening barely registered; it was hushed and awed from both chorus and orchestra, fully respecting the dynamic and ‘sotto voce’ indications. It was clear that the combined choruses were alert and mindful of the composer’s markings, and whether in restrained, unaccompanied or apocalyptic passages, the singing was both incisive and responsive.

The “Dies Irae” was not just a loud sing, but a properly terrified realisation of Verdi’s conception. With volatile playing – a remarkably clear piccolo predominating – this was gripping, and each re-appearance of this music seemed to have added intensity. The most ferocious statement was reserved for that in the concluding “Libera me”.

I don’t know where the offstage trumpets were placed for the “Tuba mirum”, but they were extraordinarily effective, and the difficult-to-achieve ensemble between them and the main orchestra was well-nigh exemplary.

The chorus was equally at home in the brilliant, blazing “Sanctus” – which seemed more than ever a welcome respite from the profundities of the text and music surrounding it – as it was in the unison, prayerful lines of the “Angus Dei”.

The soloists were a fine team, being particularly strong in the soprano and bass. In fact, Barbara Frittoli’s contributions were one of the high points of the performance. Singing from memory, she was expressive, sensitive to word colouring and yet able to soar effortlessly to higher registers. The a cappella section in the “Libera me” with the chorus was terribly poignant, but, surely guided by Noseda, the power at the climax of that concluding movement was absolutely roof-raising, as if the whole work had been striving for that moment. Candour compels one to report that she found the top As in the “Agnus Dei” difficult to produce, but the sincerity and conviction of her utterance as a whole was something quite special.

Likewise, Ferruccio Furlanetto’s sterling bass was an important asset, with his deep tone and alternately oracular and paternal projection. Daniela Barcellona was more at home in the later stages, being most impressive in the “Lux aeterna”, where the tessitura is somewhat higher. Earlier on, one felt the need for a darker timbre and less consoling delivery. Giuseppe Filianoti may be commended for avoiding over-indulgence; all the same a more refulgent sound for the tenor’s music is the ideal. He was good in his solos, though less secure in ensemble. Indeed, there were passages for the soloists – unaccompanied ones in particular – where intonation and security of line was a problem.

Nevertheless, overall this was a thoroughly convincing and, at times, really moving performance; one fully worthy of the work’s memorial intentions. I was going to intimate that the evening belonged to Frittoli and Noseda who, incidentally, discreetly kissed the score at the end. More importantly, it belonged to Giuseppe Verdi and his remarkable musical conception of the text of the Requiem Mass.

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