Throughout Friday 29th’s performance of the Verdi Requiem by the University’s Symphony Orchestra and Choral Society, I struggled to come to grips with the sheer number of participants. The performers unfathomably managed to pack snugly onto the Great Hall’s moderately spacious stage, an incredible feat considering I estimated the company numbering around 180. Whilst I would hazard a guess that this issue of expanse caused quite a headache to the organisers, the incredible size of the ensemble undisputedly proved worthwhile. The claustrophobic sea of black-clad figures generated a formidable wall of sound, whilst reining themselves in well to capture the tenseness that dominates much of Verdi’s masterpiece. As a unified work, this interpretation of the Requiem was an engaging one, and was surely a fitting culmination of the extensive practice that I wager went into the performance.
Engaging with his Operatic portfolio prior to his writing of this Mass, Verdi’s Requiem is firmly constructed on a backbone of solos in keeping with the Oratorio tradition. Fortunately, the soloists selected to fulfill the task of performing these technically demanding movements were solid – which only contributed to the strength of the work as a whole. The harmonies that force the soloists to work as a collective were flawlessly pitched, whilst the solos proved each of the singers to be highly skilled. I was most impressed by the Tenor, whose sublime interpretation of the Ingemisco went some way to dislodge Pavarotti’s legendary rendition from my mind. It is integral for the soloists to deliver in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, and fortunately, this was the case.
Positioned behind the rows of the Orchestra, the choir delivered an efficacious and enthusiastic interpretation. The performance was musically sound, and I appreciated the emphasis on diction throughout the work, which became most apparent in the Sanctus and Libera Me fugues; these were delivered with clarity and without error. I enjoyed the conscious effort the choir displayed in their engagement with the range of moods that encapsulates Verdi’s mass. The juxtaposition of the tentative sotto voce of the Opening that developed nicely into a thunderously rendered “te decet hymnus” by the male voices served as the best example of this craft. The powerful split harmony of the tenor and bass at this point was indicative of what proved to be a confident and well-sung display.
I was consistently impressed with the Symphony Orchestra’s performance also. Their sound was excellently modulated throughout, with the fluctuations between subtlety and drama that the work requires proving to be well-implemented and effective. The preciseness of this musicality was most apparent in the interpretation of the Confutatis, with the frequent switches from dramatic fortissimo to nuanced accompaniment of the Bass soloist seeming effortless. The String Section’s tone deserves particular praise, with the frequent shimmering held notes serving to be a welcome foil to the bombast that epitomises the Requiem. Apart from the tumult of the famous “Dies Irae” which slightly submerged the male singers, I felt the synthesis of the Orchestra, Choir and soloists was well refined. In this respect, conductors Richard Gonski and Roberto Gallo deserve recognition for coordinating these interactions so potently. Overall, the whole company deserves congratulation for what was an engaging, and well-performed interpretation.