What a remarkable work Verdi’s Requiem is!

Critics, fans, detractors and audiences still debate whether music which so obviously derives from the theatre can carry any spiritual weight. Apart from the drama, spectacle and luscious tunes, is the work actually about anything substantial? Does it need to be?

The BSO’s answer, accompanying the Symphony Chorus and four outstanding soloists, all conducted by David Hill, seemed a resounding, ‘Yes’. Certainly there was breathtaking music making, ear-grabbing power and, on occasion, deeply hushed contemplation, but beyond this we heard a moving commentary on grief and the consolation of religious certainty.

As a perfect example of the softly ravishing aspect of the work, the Lacrymosa provided a moment of delight which held the audience engrossed. This effect was created by the amalgamation of orchestra and chorus with the quartet of soloists working together to offer a finely judged sound world. Each element made its individual contribution to the overall ensemble as they piled up and receded like a rolling tide.

By contrast, of course, the famous Dies iræ produced a huge impact – and as much for its musical representation of anger as its sheer tooth-rattling noise. The Chorus, once unleashed for moments such as this, was truly awe-inspiring. The Sanctus, for example, skipped along with a touch of jollity as well as sincerity, but the singers made time for colouring phrases to bring interest as well as strength to the performance. Chorus Director Gavin Carr’s meticulous preparation certainly impressed.

The soloists were a distinctly top-flight group with the huge stage and platform experience to cope with this demanding work. Miah Persson, soprano, deployed her beautiful, harmonious voice, while the mezzo Jennifer Johnston showed ease and stage presence – her singing seemed effortless, disguising the fantastic technique being deployed.

Tenor Brenden Gunnell held the ensemble sound together, aiding the close blending of the four soloists which was a special feature of the performance. The giant bass James Platt was so smooth yet powerful, exuding a sense of being in complete control.

Pulling this wonderful collective into focus was the consummate musician David Hill, whose judgement of the balance of the whole team proved him a master conductor we are lucky to have as a regular visitor to the BSO.

Tom Wickson 

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