Verdi Requiem 18 March 2017

Verdi ThumbnailWhat a great sing is Verdi's ever-popular Requiem for a choral society!  And what a great listening experience it is for an audience when it hears such a fine performance as that given by the Exeter Philharmonic Choir at a concert in Exeter Cathedral on 18 March. 

This was the second of three concerts of favourite choral masterpieces that Music Director, Andrew Millington is conducting before he relinquishes the post later in the year, and it demonstrated the level of excellence to which he has brought the Philharmonic.

The great theatrical moments of the Requiem were well met by the large choir, able to ride confidently over the (excellent) orchestra in the terrifying fireworks of the 'Dies Irae', though perhaps showing a little too much caution at the start of the tricky, eight-part fugue of the 'Sanctus'.  In the contrasting, more liturgically-written elements of the work, the 'Lacrymosa' and 'Agnus Dei' for instance, the choir provided real sensitivity and tenderness, while in unaccompanied passages ('Te decet hymnus' for example) it maintained its pitch admirably.  Throughout, Andrew Millington kept a firm control over his forces, with well chosen tempi and a fine balance between choir and orchestra; only in the 'Tuba mirum' did the orchestra appear excessively dominant in the sound picture, but then it nearly always is at this point in performances of the Requiem!  What was also very evident was how much the choir was enjoying singing this emotional rollercoaster of a work.

If the Requiem presents the choir with marvellous vocal opportunities, then so it does for the soloists – the mezzo role is a particular gift to the singer.  Cheryl Enever (soprano), Madeleine Shaw (mezzo), Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks (tenor) and Darren Jeffery (bass) were a well balanced team, very sensitive to each other's parts, none wishing to shine over the others.  There was much pleasure to be had, too, in their delivery of the solos, duets and trios that Verdi includes in the work.  Particular highlights were the duets of the soprano and mezzo soloists in the 'Recordare' and 'Agnus Dei' (lovely flutes in the latter, by the way), while Darren Jeffery was both dramatic and prayerful in 'Confutatis maledictis'.  The final 'Libera me' saw soprano soloist, choir and orchestra bring the performance to a very satisfying conclusion and a well-deserved ovation from the capacity audience.

David Batty

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