S&H Concert Review

VERDI Requiem London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Antonio Pappano with Renée Fleming, Violeta Urmana, Jorge Antonio Pita & René Pape The Barbican, 21 January 2001

Soon after the experimental and controversial staging at ENOof this most operatic of Masses (which was premiered at the church of San Marco, Milan in May 1874 and during the next week given three times at La Scala) it was brought to The Barbican under the mesmerising young conductor Antonio Pappano, [left] who has returned to London, where he was born, to accept the prestigious (and onerous!) appointment of Musical Director at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. All seats for the two performances of Verdi's Requiem were long sold out and eager anticipation was not disappointed.

Pappano established his authority immediately at the commencement of the Requiem aeternam with a hushed, indeed practically inaudible, pppp (I don't know how many the score specifies?) and there was a wonderful sense of orchestra and singers breathing their phrases together. The Dies Irae was duly thrilling, with splendid thwacks on the bass drum and ff chords attacked, and cut off, with razor-sharp precision, but throughout the evening it was the moulding of the quieter music which set a special stamp upon this performance, also being filmed (commendably unobtrusively) for BBC2 TV. The male soloists (Jorge Antonio Pita deputising for indisposed Ramon Vargas) were forthright and commanding entering at Te decet - Pape a firm, solid Verdian bass, Pita not quite offering the ringing tenor tone one looks for. The Lithuanian mezzo Violeta Urmana was notable in the Lux aeterna, a veritable operatic scena for the lower voices, supported by dark orchestral tones from trombones, bass pizzicatos, and double rolls on timpani, ending with the three singers unaccompanied.

Balance within the vocal quartet was variable, as often in this work, and Renée Fleming was (from my seat near the back at the other side) at times just a little covered by the other soloists, but she declined to force her lyric soprano voice to compete (that should be adjusted for the TV transmission). Her phrasing and beauty of tone were outstanding and drew one's attention whenever she was singing; her long solo in the final Libera me was exquisite and never to be forgotten. The Chorus covered themselves with glory and there were numerous felicitous touches from the orchestra throughout; one marvelled continually at Verdi's resourceful and imaginative scoring.

A great event and an auspicious foretaste of what we may expect from Antonio Pappano at Covent Garden. There are no remaining seats to be had tonight for his second performance of Verdi's Requiem, nor for a concert of Shostakovich & Prokofiev on 28 January - returns only, but worth queuing for!

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also national press reviews of this important concert,

e.g. The Times

- - - if you missed Sunday's performance of the Verdi Requiem and fail to catch tonight's repeat, what may well be the finest tribute to Verdi in the week of his centenary will have passed you by - - - (John Allison)


The Independent

- - - Renée Fleming's "Libera me" was full of meaningful colour, one difficulty after another scorned by the completeness of her technique and musicality - - - you hear a phrase like her exposed "Salva me" in the Dies Irae and so exquisitely nuanced is it that you are reminded how in Verdi it is the vocal artistry that moves the spirit - - - An evening of gratifying quality. If the eternal flame burns as brightly as this for the whole of Verdi's centenary year, we will have little cause for complaint - - - (Edward Seckerson)

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