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LSO 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.  Stay tuned.



Bruce Hodges


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)