Heaven is stormed in an exciting Verdi Requiem from the Edinburgh Festival Chorus

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi: Miah Persson (soprano), Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Antonio Poli (tenor), William Thomas (bass), Edinburgh Festival Chorus (chorus director: James Grossmith), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor). Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 24.3.2024. (SRT)

Edinburgh Festival Chorus © Jess Shurte

Verdi – Requiem

The Edinburgh Festival Chorus does most of its work in August during the Edinburgh Festival (the clue is in the name), but alongside their busy rehearsal schedule they can slip in occasional concerts through the year, and they are a natural pairing for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which doesn’t have its own chorus. This Verdi Requiem was a good choice for them for two other reasons: firstly, it is the sixtieth anniversary year of the chorus and, secondly, they have a new chorus director, James Grossmith, and this concert gave him a chance to show what he can do with them before the maelstrom of August hits.

First indications are good. Memory can play tricks, but I thought the chorus sounded more focused than in a long time. They were not afraid to take things down to a whisper during the opening, and they tore through the big moments of the Dies Irae and Tuba Mirum with hell-for-leather energy. They then managed gorgeous softness of tone in the Agnus Dei. The two great fugues of the second half were carried off with impressive accuracy, and both pitching and clarity were top notch throughout. They got the biggest cheer at the end, and with good reason.

Their partners in the orchestra were on impressive form, too. The strings caressed the opening with velvety beauty, lingering over every phrase lovingly, before setting the hair on end during the unstoppably fast-paced judgement scenes. That delicacy came back during the impressive shimmer of the Lux aeterna, and conductor Ryan Wigglesworth allowed those moments of extremes to stand out in an impressively broadly coloured palette of sound. He paced the work like a piece of theatre, keeping up the tension during a tightly paced Sequenza, and winningly turning the Offertorio into what felt like a casual waltz. The brass shook the ceiling, and characterful woodwind solos filled in the details.

A fine quartet of soloists, too. Miah Persson sounded just a little dry in the soprano role, but this helped add urgency to the pleading in the Libera me. Alice Coote toned down her early histrionics to give a performance of forthright power, and Antonio Poli grew into a tenor line of lyrical warmth in the Ingemisco. William Thomas’s impressively dark bass sounded terrific in the depths of the Mors stupebit and agile in the Confutatis.

Midway through the Sequenza, an audience member appeared to keel over in their seat, and lots of staff were called to attend to her with urgency. The performance carried on unabated – the conductor cannot have had any idea what was happening behind him – and she seemed to respond to treatment, so all appears to have ended well. Still, the accompanying climax of the Rex tremendae can rarely have sounded so threatening, or so thrilling!

Simon Thompson

This programme was performed by these artists in Glasgow City Halls on 21st March and is available on BBC Sounds until 20th April 2024.

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