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PROM 58: Verdi Requiem, soloists, BBC Symphony Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, BBC Philharmonic, Gianandrea Noseda, conductor, Royal Albert Hall, 28 August, 2005 (ED)



Barbara Frittoli (soprano)
Daniela Barcellona (mezzo-soprano)
Giuseppe Filianoti (tenor)
Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass)

At what point, I wonder, did the Verdi Requiem become a clap-trap or has it ever been thus?  This was the 13th Requiem I have heard, and so far it has yet to get anything other than a reception matching the volume of the massed chorus it requires. Of course, it’s not hard to see why with great moments for soloists, orchestra and chorus alike; almost from the start any half-decent performance might be rewarded with unstinting applause. Such was the case here.


Perhaps too much has been made of the Requiem being Verdi’s greatest opera, however there is no denying the works dramatic dimension. We are taken on a journey of turmoil, terror but also of intimacy and – eventually – repose in Verdi’s treatment of the text. This performance emphasized the drama of the composition to the detriment of the text’s meaning, and therefore the impetus for composition.


The BBC Philharmonic laboured valiantly, producing great walls of glorious brass tone when called for (the placing of the off-stage trumpets in the third tier balconies created a thrilling effect in the Dies Irae). In quieter passages – the Ingemnisco, for example – there was decent string playing in evidence, particularly from celli and basses. Elsewhere there were telling contributions from the woodwind; percussion obvious throughout giving the whole thing the requisite punch and vigour. However, when ranged against the massed choral forces, percussion was about all one could hear.


This is in essence the problem that most live performances suffer from: an imbalance of chorus to orchestra in the big moments. Unless you have a gargantuan orchestra and scale down dramatically for anything under mf then it will always be on a hiding to nothing when the chorus gets going. In a hall where Verdi himself conducted the first English performances, and a temple to late Victorian excess, such an approach might not be too misplaced.


Quite a rarity too these days to have a quartet of Italian soloists, but was it really worth it? Barbara Frittoli, despite a few uncertain moments, contributed tellingly in the Libera me – almost the only point at which identification with the text was achieved – though much else was compromised by the contribution of mezzo Daniela Barcellona, who showed occasional textual difficulties and lack of care with note values, and her tone was ill-suited to duet passages with Frittoli. Giuseppe Filianoti’s tenor, essentially quite lyrical, was effective at word pointing in the Ingemnisco (‘Supplicanti parce Deus’ particularly memorable). Furlanetto’s bass commanded the quartet even in piano passages with the suppleness of his tone, though his Confutatis maledictis was sadly marred by Noseda’s overt vocalisation in an attempt to drive things on.


However, if one individual’s contribution (aside from Verdi’s) stood out it was that of Noseda.  Seemingly intent on launching himself through the RAH roof at times, his approach was committed and impassioned. His ability to energize the forces before him was never in doubt, and perhaps it might be enough to control the Sanctus or Dies Irae with great arm-swathing gestures, but it is ‘conducting’ of the crudest kind. The line between passion and crassness is a fine one to judge, but in the end it was moments of careful phrasing that showed there was more than just brute force to his reading: the care given to the pacing of the orchestral conclusion to the Agnus Dei being but one example.


Where power alone might once have sufficed, ultimately, taken as a whole, this was a strangely unmoving experience despite the qualities and contributions mentioned above. A clap-trap it may be, but it should still move.



Evan Dickerson

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