United Kingdom Verdi, Requiem: Katherine Broderick (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Justin Lavender (tenor), Alastair Miles (bass), Three Choirs Festival Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra / Geraint Bowen (conductor), Three Choirs Festival, The Cathedral, Hereford, 31.7.2015. (RJ)
The city of Hereford may not boast an opera house, but I couldn’t help feeling that Hereford’s ancient cathedral came pretty close in the last major concert of this year’s Three Choirs Festival.
Not that the operatic elements were evident from the solo cello opening and the hushed strings and chorus, but a slow crescendo led up to a rousing Te decet hymnus from the male singers of the chorus and quickly drew in the rest of the choir in the Requiem aeternam passage.
Soon after this conductor Geraint Bowen unleashed the Dies irae with terrifying drum beats, scurrying strings and furious singing. The Philharmonia’s resplendent brass heralded the Tuba mirum sequence and the stern, glacial tones of Alastair Miles. Catherine Wyn-Rogers brought a further sense of drama in the Liber scriptus section leaving nobody in any doubt that Judgement Day was a matter to be taken very seriously indeed. She joined soprano Katherine Broderick and tenor Justin Lavender in the anguished Quid sum miser and the three were fortified by the chorus in their plea for salvation in Rex tremendae majestatis. Tenor Ian Lavender was a last minute substitute but he was in full command of his part in the Ingemisco, tamquam reus sequence in which he plaintively begs for pity. Alastair Miles and the chorus then reminded us of the fate awaiting the accursed in Confutatis maledictis in no uncertain terms accompanied by a the plea to be counted among the blessed. A more harmonious Lacrymosa offered a respite from the earlier terrors.
The Offertorio seemed the most operatic part of the evening with the chorus silent and the four soloists uttering a more personal plea for delivery from the pains of hell. The tenor gently led the others into an outpouring of prayer and praise in Hostias et preces section reminding the Great Judge of his promises to Abraham and his descendants.
After a fanfare the Chorus were back in action in the Sanctus, which felt a bit on the fast side. But there was no holding back in the fervency of their hosannas. The Agnus Dei sung unaccompanied by soprano and mezzo-soprano offered a calm contrast to the earlier excitement and was soon taken up by the chorus. Another trio, this time consisting of Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Justin Lavender and Alastair Miles, represented perhaps the high point of the work as they pleaded for perpetual light to shine down.
In the concluding Libera me, introduced so movingly by Katherine Broderick, I couldn’t help thinking that Verdi, the opera composer, was in his element reprising some of the most memorable aspects of the Requiem as he often did in his operas. So there was a second chance to experience the dread and awesomeness of the Day of Judgement and offer a final plea for deliverance. This was a magnificent, sometimes overwhelming, performance of this well-loved choral classic with four excellent soloists and a well drilled chorus who despite a hard week’s tally of rehearsals and performances showed no signs of exhaustion or reduced commitment The hard-working Artistic Director of the Festival, Geraint Bowen, can congratulate himself on a job well done.
In an earlier report I promised readers news on the outcome of the major sporting event of the Festival – a croquet match between the deans of Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester. Here it is. The winner was the Dean of Worcester, the Very Reverend Peter Atkinson; second was the Dean of Gloucester, the Very Reverend Stephen Lake; with the Dean of Hereford, the Very Reverend Michael Tavinor trailing in third place. In defence of Mr Tavinor I have to mention that he has had plenty on his mind this week!
Next year’s Three Choirs Festival will be held at Gloucester and run from July 23-30. www.3choirs.org.