Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Magnificent Verdi Requiem

Requiem 2-500
Yannick Nezet-Seguin and Rotterdam Philharmonic

SpainSpain Verdi: Messa da Requiem, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Orfeón Donostiarra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor), Kursaal Centre, San Sebastiàn, Spain, 26.8.2014 (JMI)

Soprano: Camilla Nylund
Mezzo soprano: Karen Cargill
Tenor: Saimir Pirgu
Bass: Mikhail Petrenko

The closing days of the 75th Donostia-San Sebastiàn Musical Festival feature the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and its director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whose presence is an undoubted success for the organization and a delight for the audience.

I have always considered Verdi’s Requiem to be more than a sacred piece. Rather, it is one of his most brilliant operas. Many Requiems – not all religious – have been written throughout the history of music, but there is no question that Verdi’s is the most operatic of them all.

No opera offers a more moving overture than the Requiem that starts this Mass. Nor can I find an example of an explosion of the forces of nature like that in Verdi’s Dies Irae. Few arias can compete with Ingemisco, and what about the wonderful trio of Lacrymosa? Finally, there are few arias in the whole opera catalogue as exciting and intimate as Libera me, Domine. Some will say that the final fugue is not truly operatic and they are right, but we should remember that Falstaff also ends with a fugue.

This Requiem was certainly a success, with a magnificent orchestra, an outstanding chorus and an unbeatable conductor. To complete what could have been a memorable night it only lacked a better quartet of soloists. Substitutes apart, they were not up to the task.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin is one of the most sought-after conductors today. No wonder the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the most prestigious in the United States, recently named him as music director. His performance had all the necessary ingredients for a magnificent interpretation: deep knowledge of the score, precise gestures, emotion and grandeur. I might also point out that he conducted without a score. Under his baton was the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra which is one of the best in Europe. Orfeón Donostiarra was truly outstanding. They are at the top in Spain, and very few choruses in Europe can compete with them.

As I mentioned above, the quartet of soloists was not up to the uniqueness of what we heard in San Sebastiàn. Verdi voices were absent.

The most interesting performance came from soprano Camilla Nyund, a good singer with a fine voice but one that requires more amplitude for Verdi. Mezzo soprano Karen Cargill had some kind of artificial timbre and was not convincing. Saimir Pirgu replaced the originally announced Bryan Hymel. He has a beautiful voice in the middle, but it’s too small and not well-suited for Verdi. He should stay with Mozart. Finally, bass Mikhail Petrenko was disappointing. His voice has lost a good part of its former appeal. In a different repertoire it might work, but not in Verdi.

José Mª Irurzun

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