Tremendous panache from performers in Verdi’s epic Requiem


Lisa Harper-Brown (soprano), Margaret Medlyn (mezzo), Rosario La Spina (tenor), Jud Arthur (bass)

Orpheus Choir and City Choir Dunedin

NZSO conducted by Pietari Inkinen

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Saturday 29th June.

Verdi’s Requiem was presented last Saturday evening with tremendous panache by a huge group of musicians who all seemed to revel in the privilege of performing this epic work. Their enthusiasm was palpable, in a way that communicated itself to the audience and created a gala atmosphere that was further enhanced by the wonderful lighting of the rich timber work in the dome . The huge range of dynamic and dramatic possibilities, and the riveting contrasts crafted by Verdi were brought out by Inkinen’s direction in every movement of the score.

A great deal has been written about the dramatic and operatic style of the Requiem by those who question whether such overt dramatism is appropriate for a work that contemplates death. But the score makes it clear that Verdi saw much more than contemplation in the gamut of emotions facing a dying human being. He threw his formidable talent at the challenge of expressing a whole range of feelings with no holds barred, and this was a performance that did that intention proud. The musicians barely whispered the breathless plea of the opening Requiem aeterna,  yet  repeatedly unleashed a shrieking terror of divine wrath in the recurring Dies irae. The contemplative numbers were sensitively crafted by the singers in solos and ensembles alike, and they were supported by some breathtaking obligati from the woodwind principals, the first bassoon being the standout example.

There were very few moments that were less than satisfactory. Lisa Harper-Brown embraced the huge demands of the solo soprano score with complete technical mastery and projected clearly over the strongest orchestral and choral passages. Margaret Medlyn’s musicianship was, as always, eminently sensitive and convincing, but there were times when the pitch and timbre of her voice could not quite float through the orchestration provided for the mezzo solos. Jud Arthur likewise needed more power and definition than his voice could find to sound strong and satisfying in some numbers. Rosario La Spina could soar effortlessly over the combined choir and orchestra, but was sometimes too dominant in the tenor voice of ensemble numbers. Margaret Medlyn and Jud Arthur were both sometimes difficult to hear within the solo ensemble when it was set against the massed choirs and full orchestral resources.

Inkinen was apparently conducting the Requiem for the first time on this NZSO tour. But his beat was always clear and sure and only once, in the Sanctus, did he set off at a tempo which left the disparate choral and orchestral strands struggling to mesh their rhythm. His control of the vast dynamic range and huge dramatic contrasts demanded by the score was truly impressive, and it was clear that even the most distant chorister responded to such clear, emphatic leadership. The orchestra was in splendid form, and the strings and wind had no trouble holding their own with Verdi’s fullest orchestration for brass and percussion.

The performance built inexorably to a riveting climax that was capped off with thunderous applause from the packed auditorium. The glowing faces and excited comments that buzzed in the lobbies afterwards expressed the enormous enthusiasm of the audience, and the sense of being privileged to experience such a powerful work so magnificently presented. Judging by the turnout on Saturday, the NZSO should take these reactions to heart, and more often consider the great masses and requiems of such as Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven etc. when preparing future programmes.

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