The London Symphony Orchestra, throughout the suspension of live performances during coronavirus lockdown, are maintaining a semblance of normality by making available, on Sunday and Thursday evenings, through their ‘Always Playing’ initiative, concerts from their archive originally recorded live. A review, then, albeit of a concert performed on 18 September 2016, seems an appropriate response, and, given that the concerts become, after the streaming date, available to listen to at any time, becomes more in the nature of an album review that prospective listeners can use to curate their own listening at this time.
Verdi’s Requiem, written to mark the death of Alessandro Manzoni, has doubtless had thousands of performances since its 1874 première, but it remains a well-loved piece, and a streaming of it at this time seemed particularly apposite. Everyone has their favourite performance or recording, with the partisanship usually centring around the soloists, because this, after all, is essentially an operatic work.
For many of us, ‘Italian’ is the preferred style, and as full of raw emotion as possible. Listeners need have no fear of anything else in the LSO’s performance streamed on Sunday evening, as the orchestra and London Symphony Chorus aside, the line-up of principals was through and through red, white and green.
Gianandrea Noseda’s control of the forces is fascinating to watch (and the cameras allow the viewer to see his work in close-up for a lot of the time); his beat is generally clear, but his gestures speak volumes. His understanding of the work is obvious, and he brings maximum emotion to bear through rigid insistence on tempo and dynamic from the opening calm pianissimo (the entries are barely audible over the ambient background sound) and the sudden turbocharged tenor entry on ‘Kyrie’ through to the nuanced changes in dynamic, even within the massively loud ‘Dies Irae’ repetitions. Although Noseda allows plenty of room for emotion, the tempi never drag, and are sometimes even on the sprightly side: ‘Tuba mirum’ is more a bright reveille than a sonorous last post, and the choral fugue of ‘Libera me’ is taken at breakneck speed. The orchestra respond to all of this with consummate professionalism; the intonation of the violins in their ‘wall of death’ runs is matched only in perfection by their quiet shimmer at the opening of ‘Lux aeterna’; the solemn squeak of the bassoons in ‘Quid sum miser’ is fluid; the tread in ‘Ingemisco’ spot on, the end of ‘Lacrymosa’ full of quiet pomp ,and the cellos at the opening of ‘Domine’ sound like one instrument. The chorus, likewise, are on top form, giving us full on solidity for the big moments, or accompanying the soprano with subtle tenderness in ‘Lacrymosa’
The tenor Francesco Meli is everything you’d want for a Verdi Requiem and displays a full bel canto solidity; his ‘Ingemisco’ is full of light and shade, and his controlled mezza voce in ‘Hostias’ is a delight. Michele Pertusi brings an authoritative edge to the ‘Confutatis’ bass solo, and his attractively complex tone is consistent, even in the quiet tristesse of ‘Lacrymosa’.
The two female soloists are nicely matched, and their duet work at the opening of ‘Recordare’ and ‘Lux aeterna’ work well. The soprano Erika Grimaldi produces lines that can be both powerful and sweet that serve her in good stead for the challenging ‘Libera me’. The mezzo Daniela Barcellona can certainly match the power, and has plenty of rich solidity in her chest voice, but there’s a reedy edge to her tone higher in her register (noticeable particularly in ‘Lux aeterna’) that can intrude somewhat.
The streamed performance is now available on the LSO’s YouTube Channel.