25 April 2006

‘A great Verdi Requiem’

I am gradually recovering from last week’s performances of the Verdi Requiem. If you include the rehearsals, we must have sung through the chorus sections at least six times in four nights. Interestingly it was not my throat but my stomach muscles that ached by the end of it.

But the effort was worth it. Not only were the audiences in Edinburgh and Glasgow extremely appreciative, but the performance actually persuaded Michael Tumelty of The Herald to give us an unreservedly good review (the first in The Herald for as long as I can remember). In fact, the review is so good that it is worth quoting in full:

To what should we attribute the artistic achievement of the RSNO’s performance of Verdi's Requiem on Saturday night, an interpretation compelling in its drama, emotional power, integrity and sheer beauty?

To the RSNO Chorus, producing for the orchestra's principal conductor, Stephane Deneve, its best singing in years, from the theatrical whispers, Arthur Oldham-style, at the beginning, to its fleet, light singing in the Sanctus, to its power in the Dies Irae, to the lucid intricacy of its contrapuntal play with the soprano in the final movement? Or should it be to the soloists, spearheaded by the extraordinary Italian soprano Norma Fantini, whose range of colour was breathtaking: creamy, silvery and of a stratospheric intensity that pierced like a laser (and who took her opening phrases in the Offertorium in a single breath, as Schwarzkopf did)? Or the amazing Russian mezzo Elena Manistina, a singer of mouthwatering depth? Or the two men, tenor Miroslav Dvorsky and bass Reinhard Hagen, even though neither, clearly, was on top form?

Or should we include, high up the list, the RSNO itself, with string playing of magical sensitivity, and a brass section of wondrous sonority and rare balance?

All were essential components in a wonderful performance, but, first and last, this was Stephane Deneve’s night, with a gloriously operatic approach to the Requiem that gave his singers all the space they needed to breathe, and was fashioned with myriad theatrical touches, from the fractional drag in the rhythm of the Lacrimosa to the imperceptible delay in the mighty bass drum thwacks of the Dies Irae, which underlined the emotional depth of the music.

This was more than a fine performance. It was a great Verdi Requiem. And Deneve’s stature increases as a consequence.

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