Inspiring Verdi Requiem from Gianandrea Noseda

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GermanyGermany Verdi, Requiem: Kristin Lewis (soprano), Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano), Francesco Meli (tenor), Ildar Abdrazakov (bass), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino/Gianandrea Noseda, Kreuzkirche, Dresden, Germany, 28.5.2013 (MC)

Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino in Dresden, photo M. Cookson (1)
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino in Dresden, photo M. Cookson

Not only was this performance of the Verdi Messa da Requiem the final concert of my trip to the Dresden Music Festival it also proved to be the finest performance. There was something special about the visiting Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino playing music by their fellow countryman Verdi in a work that they know so well. Gianandrea Noseda, the music director of the Teatro Regio Torino, is a specialist in this repertoire and as the chief conductor of one of my local orchestras, the BBC Philharmonic, I have attended and reported on a considerable number of his performances and was saddened when his tenure concluded in 2011. Thankfully as the orchestra’s Laureate Conductor he returns to Manchester regularly.

It was the death of author Alessandro Manzoni in 1873 which inspired Verdi to write his Requiem Mass. At this time the 60 year old composer was at the height of his creative powers having recently had his opera Aïda premiered in Cairo with only Otello and Falstaff yet to be composed. Verdi had already written a Libera me in 1868 as part of a collaborative venture following the death of Rossini. Naturally expectations were high following Verdi’s announcement of a tour de force of sacred music and in response he wrote probably the best known Requiem mass in the repertoire – a work of genius that the composer described as, “A tribute of respectful affection, the expression of my sorrow.” It is not surprising that the great opera composer should create a work of deep religious fervour in the dramatic often operatic manner in which he excelled.

It seems that Verdi had a 120 voice choir when he introduced the score at the San Marco church in Milan in 1874. Noseda didn’t have that number at his disposal in the Kreuzkirche, Dresden and it must have been at great expense that his 76 strong chorus together with the large 80 plus orchestra had travelled up from Turin. The largest church in Saxony the Kreuzkirche positioned at the Altmarkt was pretty much packed. Such was the interest in this event that the performance commenced a few minutes late owing to the numbers queuing up for entry. Even after the start a few latecomers could be heard nosily opening and closing doors and seen in the gallery moving to their seats distractingly some directly in the eyeline of Noseda.

In an exceptional performance of this monumental Requiem Noseda directed his impressive choral and orchestral forces with power, precision and verve. Right from the opening pages of the Requiem aeternam the elevated proficiency of the performers was evident. Throughout I was struck by the sheer intensity of the dramatic performance that Noseda consistently produced. The searing drama of the opening of the Dies irae a spine tingling and terrifying depiction of judgement day never fails to move and the impact from Noseda’s combined Turin forces was stunning.

Noseda had assembled a splendid quartet of admirably contrasted soloists all of whom rose splendidly to the challenges of the occasion. The attractive voice of American soprano Kristin Lewis improved the more she sang, revealing a bright yet pure timbre with a fine projection, heard to its best affect in the Libera me a true highlight of the performance. Passionately committed Italian tenor Francesco Meli also improved with involvement with his voice casting well through the church. Also Italian by birth the mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi was expressive displaying the ability to move the listener with her devotional rendering of the text. At low volume her voice tended to get lost within the orchestra and the church acoustic however in the more forceful passages her voice sounded quite splendid. Undoubtedly the finest voice on display was Ildar Abdrazakov who has already won a double Grammy in 2011 for the live recording of the Verdi Requiem with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under distinguished conductor Riccardo Muti. With real humility the Russian bass was supremely convincing in conveying a deep reverential quality to the text. With an innate sense of authority Abdrazakov’s deep resonant tones contained a rich, dark character and projected powerfully and vividly through the church.

Congratulations are in order for Noseda and his Turin forces for their triumphant performance of the Verdi Requiem;one that will live long in the memory.

Michael Cookson