IN NEW YORK (I): Verdi: Messa da Requiem soloists, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis - Conductor,
Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, 28.09.2005 (BH)
Anne Schwanewilms, Soprano
Ildiko Komlosi, Mezzo-soprano
Stuart Neil, Tenor
Orlin Anastassov, Bass (New York debut)
London Symphony Chorus
Joseph Cullen, Director
Appearances here by the esteemed London Symphony Orchestra
are among the most anticipated events of the New York season. Last year’s concert version of Britten’s Peter
Grimes, also with Sir Colin Davis at the helm, was about
as monumental as anyone could ask for, not to mention last
February’s visceral, alarming Rite of Spring with Pierre
Boulez. Wednesday night’s
opening of three concerts, Verdi’s Requiem, mostly
lived up to expectations with some coruscating work by those
onstage, all superbly managed by Sir Colin in hell-bent mode.
Verdi’s prayerful opening, the Requiem and Kyrie,
was a pianissimo marvel, often in short supply these
days. The terrific London Symphony Chorus, over one
hundred strong and expertly prepared by Joseph Cullen, were
thrillingly quiet, lest there be any doubt why they were flown
in for the occasion. But then this serenity was interrupted by a
bolt of lightning in the Dies irae – a hellish, demonic
vision. Verdi’s conception was to produce a requiem
unlike that of Mozart, Berlioz, Cherubini or anyone else –
a work that emphasizes the sizzling fire into which unrepentant
souls will be hurled like so much broken furniture.
Sir Colin admirably managed the “hurled” portion, with
the orchestra in ultra-committed mode, so much so that its
concertmaster fairly leaped out of his chair on the downbeats.
After their fiery entrance, the section ended with
the singers hissing, fairly spitting out the words, Quantum
tremor est futurus, Quando Judex est venturus, Cuncta stricte
discussurus! (What great terror there will be when Heaven’s
Judge comes to strictly measure all.)
The singers were generally very good, if with some
scattered intonation problems in the beginning.
(I confess to being very finicky in this area.) Anne Schwanewilms, veteran of the “little black
dress” story co-starring Deborah Voigt, deserves to be remembered
as an outstanding vocal artist in her own right.
Her entrances, in particular, were marvels of clean,
tight focus – her attacks often seemed to materialize startlingly
out of nowhere. Ildiko Komlosi seemed a bit over-anxious at
first, but later found her stride, and delivered a warm tone
that melded well with Ms. Schwanewilms, and was very effective
in the gorgeous Lux Aeterna near the end.
The men fared well, particularly Stuart Neill, whose
fine-honed focus, particularly in the Offertorio and
the Ingemisco sections, was impressive.
And Orlin Anastassov, making his New York debut here,
projected ominously in the Confutatis section, opening
with While the damned are confounded and devoured by flames…
I wish the fabulous LSO brass section had been tamed
a bit, since their work, pristine and gleaming as it was,
often completely overpowered the rest of the ensemble, and
virtually demolished some of the balances in the process.
Granted, this can carry its own raw excitement, but
the reality is that here and there, especially in the ferocious
Dies irae, the singers – even the mammoth chorus –
were occasionally drowned out, which sapped the work of some
of its tension. Knowing
the fickle acoustics of Avery Fisher Hall, the brass’ placement
directly in my line of sight could have something to do with
the blinding effect.
But if some of the individual segments perhaps could
have used some more tinkering, Sir Colin definitely knows
his Verdi, and the architectural span was there from the first
to the last. Verdi’s structure, unconventional in its day,
is supremely satisfying, with the soprano and chorus echoing
the opening in the exquisite closing pages of the Libera
me. It is quite a journey. Still to come: two more by Sir Colin and this
great orchestra – one with Sibelius rarities including Kullervo,
and symphonies by Walton and Vaughan Williams.