Prom 13: Verdi Requiem - review

Royal Albert Hall, London

After kicking off with Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony last week, the Proms' Choral Sundays series turned to familiar territory for its second concert with Verdi's Requiem. Semyon Bychkov conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a performance of extremes, both emotional and dynamic, that was also characterised by exceptional attention to detail. An uncertain Verdian in the past, Bychkov, in this instance, produced an interpretation of considerable focus and insight.

In terms of the age-old debate about whether the Requiem is primarily sacred or profane, devout or agnostic, Bychkov seemed to settle on the side of doubt rather than faith, bringing the work to a close in a numbed void after traversing a terrain fraught with images of dread. Speeds were urgent, even in the Agnus Dei, where most conductors dawdle. The colossal choral forces – combining the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the London Philharmonic Choir – unleashed a crushing sonic weight at full throttle, though the sounds that linger most in the memory, perhaps, were the quieter passages, suggestive of great crowds murmuring in terror. Clean orchestral textures, meanwhile, allowed us to hear molten woodwind gurgles and ominous pizzicato throbs that we usually miss.

The soloists, however, weren't evenly matched. Mezzo Mariana Pentcheva produced some thrillingly sepulchral low notes, but also took a while to get a seismic vibrato in her upper registers under control. Soprano Marina Poplavskaya's fondness for sculpted phrasing was a bit too self-conscious in this music. The men – Joseph Calleja and Ferruccio Furlanetto – fared better. Furlanetto sounded suitably oracular in his prophecies of catastrophe. Calleja's penetrating, elegant tenor was ravishing in both Ingemisco and Hostias, if slightly too dominant in the quartets.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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