Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Verdi: Requiem – Grand enough to fill York Minster

29 October 2022

And loud enough to wake the dead.


The Hallé Orchestra & Choir (Photo: Bill Lam)

This performance of the work which Verdi wrote in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, whom he called “this great spirit,” was a fitting choice not only as the culmination of the Ryedale Festival but in commemoration of Richard Shephard, the composer who died in 2021 and who was a much admired and loved benefactor to York Minster. The Ryedale Festival specializes in presenting wonderful music performed by outstanding artists in exceptional settings, and this evening was the perfect example of that: stellar soloists, superb orchestra and chorus, conducted by one of the greats, in the perfect surroundings of one of the world’s most glorious buildings.

Hans von Bülow described the work as “Verdi’s last great opera, though in ecclesiastical robes”, a remark he later modified, but it’s undeniable that the Requiem holds us so firmly in its grip partly because of its high drama; like Messiah and the St Matthew Passion, it appeals to those who, like Verdi himself, are “certainly very little of a believer” (Giuseppina Strepponi, the composer’s wife).

“…this evening was the perfect example of… stellar soloists, superb orchestra and chorus, conducted by one of the greats…”


Natalya Romaniw, Alice Coote, Thomas Atkins, Mark Elder & James Platt (Photo: Bill Lam)

The Hallé Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Elder, played superbly throughout, never more so than in the hushed opening bars, with those glorious strings shimmering, and when the Hallé Choir entered with ‘Requiem’ we knew that this was to be a very special performance.  ‘Dies Irae’ can seldom have sounded so gripping, and the soprano and mezzo’s ‘Recordare’ was exquisite. For some of us, that part always reminds of Dorabella and Fiordiligi’s duets in Così fan Tutte, and Natalya Romaniw and Alice Coote were the perfect partners.

James Platt’s sonorous bass thundered out in ‘Mors stupebit et natura’ although his words did get a little muffled in the very woolly acoustic of the cathedral. Thomas Atkins has just the right clarion tone for ‘Ingemisco’ although his diction at times sounded less than crisp, unsurprising given the vast space it had to conquer. No such problems beset Coote and Romaniw in the ‘Agnus Dei’ and the soprano’s final solo was sung with vivid expression, from the fearful ‘Tremens factus sum ego et timeo’ to the steady beat of ‘dies magna.’ The final lines from the chorus showed once again that this is a group of the finest calibre.

This was the final concert of the Ryedale Festival’s 2022 season, and a packed house gave it a resounding reception.

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Verdi: Requiem – Grand enough to fill York Minster