sat 18/11/2017

Prom 74: Verdi Requiem, OAE, Alsop | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 74: Verdi Requiem, OAE, Alsop

Prom 74: Verdi Requiem, OAE, Alsop

Verdi’s choral spectacular showcases impressive youth choir, but period instruments add little

Marin Alsop conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the BBC Proms Youth Choir in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the BBC Proms BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Tradition – a choral spectacular for the penultimate night of the Proms – but with a twist – a youth choir and period instruments. Marin Alsop this evening led a spectacular Verdi Requiem, not least for the sheer scale of the chorus, the BBC Proms Youth Choir some 200 strong. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provided chacterful accompaniment, though sometimes struggled to compete, and the four soloists all delivered, particularly Tamara Wilson, here confirming her reputation as one of today’s leading Verdi sopranos.

The BBC Proms Youth Choir brings together four youth choruses from around the country for an annual appearance at the Albert Hall. The singers all look young, but their performance was impressively assured. Despite the large numbers, ensemble and tuning were always secure, and the purity of their youthful voices combined with the sheer power of their numbers to impressive effect. The Introit and its later reprise were sung from memory, adding valuable intimacy to the opening minutes.

The greatest benefit and interest was provided by the brass Marin Alsop is a versatile conductor, with the authority and focus to marshal these huge forces. Her leadership of the chorus was particularly assured, tempos clearly communicated and phrases well defined. Her interpretation made no concessions to the youth or number of the singers, regularly demanding dynamic extremes and often brisk tempos. The fugue in the Sanctus was particularly impressive, fleet and nimble but well balanced too, and projected with a clarity all too rare in this venue. But Alsop’s efforts to maintain order occasionally led to a matter-of-factness at odds with the work’s operatic ambitions. The soloists sometimes sounded constrained by her strict tempos, particularly mezzo Alisa Kolosova in the Liber scriptus, a performance that could have taken flight given greater freedom and breadth.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment seems intent these days on applying period instruments to the works where they would be least expected, so perhaps we should not be surprised hearing them in Verdi’s Requiem. As often in period instrument Romantic repertoire, the greatest benefit and interest was provided by the brass, with the Italian valve trombones and cimbasso adding real character to the choral numbers.

Elsewhere, the benefits were less clear. In the Dies irae, the percussionist hit two bass drums simultaneously, but still didn’t achieve much impact. There is little of importance for the woodwinds in the score, although the bright piccolo (from Judith Treggor) shone through, and the bassoon solo (Meyrick Alexander) in the Quid sum miser was excellent. The string section, presumably playing on gut strings, often struggled to balance the huge chorus, and, with their expanded numbers, also experienced ensemble problems, particularly at the lower end: the opening of Domine Jesu Christe was a mess.

PromThe four soloists were a curious mix and made for a diverse ensemble, but both separately and together the ladies proved superior to the gentlemen. Soprano Tamara Wilson (pictured right) recently won plaudits in London for her Leonora in The Force of Destiny at English National Opera, and her performance here was just as good. She has the projection to carry across the chorus with ease, but her quiet singing is even more impressive, and her final Libera me was the highlight of the evening. Mezzo Alisa Kolosova was in the same league, and with a remarkably similar voice type.

Tenor Dimiti Pittas was a late substitution (for Michael Fabiano) and, unfortunately, often sounded like it. Poor tuning in the opening ensemble got him off to a bad start, although he later recovered to give serviceable solos, and his Italianate Latin – lots of rolled Rs – was stylistically spot on. Bass Morris Robinson has an impressively deep voice, and the focus of his tone his considerably lower than that of the part itself. He doesn’t have the superhuman projection required for a performance like this, though there was plenty of character to his solos. But when the line reached down into the lower register he came into his own, and his dark, hollow delivery of the Dona eis requiem that ends several of the movements was chilling.

A mixed bag then, serviceable and without any real disappointments. Despite the novel instrumentation, this was a Verdi Requiem all about the singing. The BBC Proms Youth Choir gave a spectacular performance, and their future appearances at the Proms are well worth looking out for. So too Tamara Wilson, who will no doubt be returning to the London opera stage sooner or later, where she will definitely be worth hearing. In the mean time, the Proms season draws to a close and the winter season begins – in spectacular style by the London Symphony Orchestra next weekend with a performance of... Verdi’s Requiem. Plus ça change.

@saquabote

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