Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Jurowski: Verdi Requiem @ Royal Festival Hall, London

26 April 2008

Despite some shortcomings amongst the soloists, thrilling choral singing and scrupulously detailed orchestral playing made for a memorable performance of this masterpiece.

Vladimir Jurowski’s wealth of operatic experience showed in every bar.

I must admit that I’ve been seriously underwhelmed by Jurowski’s appearances with the LPO this season.

The special chemistry that needs to exist between an orchestra and its Music Director has seemed lacking. Concerts that looked exhilarating on paper have failed to catch fire in performance, so I approached this performance of Verdi’s magisterial Requiem Mass with a certain amount of trepidation. My doubts were thankfully confounded as the playing and, above all, the choral singing were on such an exalted level that the work came across with an elemental force that took the breath away.

In the theatre Jurowski has always been able to discover the tinta of each Verdi opera he has conducted and that wealth of understanding provided the lynchpin for this knockout performance. The orchestra responded with rich, vivid and wonderfully detailed playing and it’s worth noting that their annual residency in the pit at Glyndebourne gives them an edge over other orchestras when an operatic approach is called for such as it is here.

Jurowski’s take on the work was at times broad, especially in the a capella choral fugue in the opening Requiem aeternum and the Sanctus, but that’s not to say the performance dragged quite the opposite as it had a forward propulsion that still allowed the music to breathe where necessary. There was due lyricism in the Recordare whilst the Dies Irae had a visceral thrill that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. My only quibble was that the additional trumpets were placed offstage, and would have had far more impact if placed in the auditorium.

Alongside the orchestral playing, the other main ingredient in making this performance so memorable was the outstanding contribution of the combined choral forces of the Philharmonia Chorus and London Philharmonic Choir. Not only did they sing with pinpoint accuracy, but their phrasing was uniformly excellent and they were as mesmerising in the hushed opening of the Requiem as they were in the fire and brimstone Dies Irae. Quite rightly they received the largest ovation of the evening.

All but one of the four soloists were Italian, so in many ways it’s ironic that the most idiomatic singing came from the Hungarian mezzo Ildiko Komlosi. She deployed her wonderfully rich voice intelligently throughout, no more so than in an impassioned Liber scriptus. She’s made the role of Amneris her calling-card and on the basis of this performance I can see why. Massimo Giordano’s tenor was better in the more declamatory parts of the work he bleated his way through the Recordare slightly under the note, which marred an otherwise ‘correct’ reading of the part.

Ferruccio Furlanetto was a baleful bass presence. The biggest disappointment of the evening was soprano Barbara Frittoli. She tried to float plenty of pianissimo high notes but not all of them paid off and her disengaged platform manner (arms folded throughout) was strange to say the least. Nor did she have the power to cut through the Libera Me. Maybe she was having an off night. Fortunately these shortcomings did not distract from the overall power of the performance and for that we have Jurowski, his orchestra and choir to thank.

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