United Kingdom Verdi Requiem: Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano); Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto); Francesco Meli (tenor); Carlo Colombara (bass-baritone); Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra; Daniele Gatti (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 20.4.2013 (CC)
After a Turn of the Screw dedicated to the memory of Sir Colin Davis came another dedicated event. Giuseppe Modiano (1928-2012), a trustee of the Philharmonia Orchestra, was signally honoured by having a performance of Verdi’s Requiem dedicated to him. In the event, it was a massively stirring, dramatic account.
Daniele Gatti’s operatic credentials are impeccable – he conducted Wagner’s Parsifal at Bayreuth every year between 2008 and 2001 while 2012 found him with the Vienna Philharmonic at Salzburg for La bohème. It was evident right from the start of this Requiem that drama was to the fore. The fast-ish speed of the opening ‘Requiem aeternam’ gave the piece movement rather than stolidity appropriate for a cathedral; the superbly balanced chorus gave the sense of something afoot that none could foresee. Of the soloists introduced in this opening movement, it was the imposing bass-baritone of Carlo Colombara that impressed most, closely followed by the echt-contralto of Marie-Nicole Lemieux – no confusing this lady with a mezzo, that’s for sure. Lemieux has a depth of sound that is perfect for the score at hand; Colombara has an authority too few singers, of whatever range, can muster these days.
The quasi-intoned choral phrases of the first panel give way to the explosion that is the ‘Dies Irae’ – that “something afoot” in the first movement, surely. Piccolo wailings seemed to originate from the lowest regions of Hades, and the Philharmonia brass was in full cry. It takes a singer of the presence of Colombara to give adequate weight to the subsequent ‘Mors stupebit’. In the event it was a marvellous, impressive moment of dark stillness.
The tenor soloist, Francesco Meli, was perhaps more variable overall, but his ‘Ingemisco’ contained moments of contained wonder as well as the guilt portrayed by the words. Although Krassimira Stoyanova impressed my colleague Mark Berry recently – she took the role of Tatiana in the Royal Opera’s Onegin – here she seemed uninspired, and the soloist who seemed the least at home. Only in the passage in octaves with Lemieux that initiates the ‘Agnus Dei’ did she sound truly attuned to Verdi’s phrasing and settled; otherwise her voice seemed rather weak and her floated notes lacked the pure magic the score demands. She attained some drama at the recited ‘Libera me’, before the chorus entered with its magnificent counterpoint – all parts clear, despite the massive numbers on display.
The off-stage brass was positioned behind the doors at the side of the stage, which perhaps did not give quite the distancing/panoply of sound that one might hope for, but the overall effect of the sonics was overwhelming. Of the orchestral soloists, perhaps Amy Harman’s bassoon solos should take the crown. There is an awful lot for this instrument to take on in this piece, and she delivered wonderfully.
The evening was Gatti’s though, in the final analysis. His reading is cogent, and delivers all of the heft of Verdi’s Requiem, but shows its more tender, intimate side also. He is able to marshal his forces with authority, his gestures, sometimes deliberately vague or absent, were always there – or not – for a reason. This piece is mightily awe-inspiring, or so it should be. And so it was on this occasion. Minor caveats aside, this was a tremendous reading.