An Impressive Verdi Requiem in Birmingham

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi: Latonia Moore (soprano); Karen Cargill (mezzo Soprano); Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor); Christophoros Stamboglis (bass); CBSO Chorus; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Edward Gardner (conductor), Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 25.10.2017. (JQ)

Verdi – Requiem

Verdi’s Requiem is one of those works that can still fill a hall. Despite the attractiveness of their programmes I’ve noticed quite a number of empty seats at CBSO concerts in the last few years. For this concert, however, Symphony Hall, though not sold out, was reassuringly full.

On the podium to lead the performance was Edward Gardner, the CBSO’s former Principal Guest Conductor. He’s well known for his ability to galvanize large forces and that’s just what he did tonight. Though he by no means neglected the orchestra he devoted a good deal of attention to the CBSO Chorus and this splendid choir responded with singing that was often fervent and exciting but also often very refined.

I greatly appreciated, for example, the way that the choir sang quietly yet firmly in the opening ‘Kyrie’. Indeed, throughout the evening their soft singing always had body. A few minutes later they were thrilling in the ‘Dies Irae’ and they made a very full contribution to a blazing rendition of the ‘Tuba mirum’. Gardner capped that section extravagantly but marvelously by adding to the mix two pairs of extra trumpets at the end; these players were stationed high up in the topmost balconies of Symphony Hall to the left and right of the platform. Later in the performance, the chorus had to be on their mettle in the ‘Sanctus’ which Gardner, very rightly, took at pace. Verdi demands alert singing of pinpoint accuracy in this movement and the CBSO Chorus delivered in spades. Their dynamic range was very impressive here and elsewhere. They also made a notable contribution to the ‘Libera me’. Full marks, then, to the chorus.

Full marks also to the CBSO. In a work such as this it’s almost inevitable that one’s attention is drawn to the singers. However, the orchestra is critical to the success of any performance of Verdi’s Requiem. In the big moments the CBSO were superb; the brass section was imposing throughout the evening. Just as impressive, though, were the many moments of delicacy, not least when the soloists were singing. Edward Gardner drew responsive and expert playing from the orchestra from first to last.

For this concert hall work you need a solo quartet with real operatic credentials and we heard such singers in this performance. The Greek bass, Christophoros Stamboglis was a late replacement for the indisposed Brindley Sherratt. I had the impression, perhaps wrongly, that once or twice he got slightly ahead of the beat early on in the performance but if that was the case then he soon settled. He has a big, sonorous voice and he used it to excellent advantage, not least in the ‘Confutatis’ His solo work was good and he fitted in well with the other soloists in ensemble sections.

The Welsh tenor, Gwyn Hughes Jones has a very Italianate sound and his voice rings brightly. Early on I was concerned that his last phrase in the ‘Quid sum miser’ was far too forceful. This made me worry how he might tackle the tenor’s two major solos but my fears were groundless. When he sang the ‘Ingemisco’ his heart was rather on his sleeve – though not excessively so – and he floated ‘Inter oves’ most appealingly. Even better, though, was the ‘Hostias’ where his voice had just the right amount of pleading and the tone was floated in an ideal fashion. He made a fine contribution to the evening.

So, too, did Karen Cargill. She has an impressive pedigree and it showed tonight. This was proper Verdian mezzo singing, often fervent and always secure. She was commanding yet expressive in the ‘Liber scriptus’ and later I admired the way that she and Latonia Moore combined in the ‘Recordare’. Not only did they sing as a pair but also the voices complemented each other well. Miss Cargill had an entirely appropriate edge to her tone which contrasted well with the richness of her soprano colleague. Towards the end of the evening Miss Cargill was impressively expressive in the ‘Lux aeterna’

The American soprano, Latonia Moore has a big, gleaming voice and she had no trouble at all in riding the loudest ensembles. At other times she was highly expressive, putting her music across with great conviction. Her top register was well-focused and commanding but she also deployed a strong chest voice at times. The soprano’s key contribution, of course, comes in the ‘Libera me’. Miss Moore gave us a very dramatic opening and later her contribution to the long unaccompanied passage with the choir was deeply felt, though it was a pity that she curtailed her last note rather abruptly. My only criticism was that for my taste her gestures and body language were a bit too theatrical at times and especially in this movement. However, there’s no doubting that as a Verdian soprano Latonia Moore is the real deal.

Edward Gardner led an impressive and often exciting account of Verdi’s great score. He paced the music idiomatically and intelligently – there were none of the willful tempo selections that I experienced recently in a recording conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (review) and for that I was very thankful. For all its merits I felt that the performance lacked the spirituality that one remembers from, say, Carlo Maria Giulini but it was still a fine traversal of the score which fully justified the warm reception from the Birmingham audience.

John Quinn   

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