Known today as the Verdi Requiem, the funeral mass written by one of the greatest opera composers, has had a somewhat chequered history and was originally criticised for being “an opera in ecclesiastical vestments.” Certainly, what is required of the soloists is closer to opera than liturgical singing. The Requiem also takes the audience on an immense musical journey that demonstrates hope and despair in equal measure and is a transcendental work for many. Nowadays, performed more frequently in concert halls than in churches, its marvellous dramatic music and evocative vocal text make it a favourite with choral groups and community orchestras, who can provide the requisite huge vocal and orchestral resources required.
Soprano Natalie Aroyan. Photo © Andrew Keshan
The Brisbane Chorale, Queensland Choir and Brisbane Concert Choir combined their considerable forces, alongside the Brisbane Philharmonic Orchestra, to present this work as part of the Queensland Music Festival. It must have been a massive undertaking and one in which they clearly enjoyed considerable success, such was the infectious enthusiasm in the Concert Hall and the response of an elated audience to the work.
Peter Luff, Deputy Director of Performance at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University (and himself a fine French horn player), conducted. He marshalled both his orchestral and choral forces with care and precision, his strong technique well-honed to manage the contrasting musical styles of the work. His was an intelligent and professionally polished interpretation, with a clear beat that helped shape and direct the concert.
Commencing with a solemn, slow and whisper-quiet opening with soloists and chorus, Luff quickly reached fever pitch with the powerful Dies Irae, with its crashing percussion and full-on brass. He then proceeded to skilfully bring out the various colours of Verdi’s glorious melodies and powerful rhythms from both voices and orchestra, in the dramatically intense as well as the softer lyrical passages. In the Tuba Mirum on and off-stage trumpets provided an urgent call to judgement, as they did in Sanctus, this time heralding a triumphant entry. Orchestrally the Rex tremendae created an oppressive atmosphere with its huge soundscape, as was repeated to great effect in the final emotive Libera Me.
Natalie Aroyan’s exquisite heavy lyric soprano produced some ravishing top notes, though she was less skilled in the finer pianissimo sections. She sang beautifully in the duet in Recordare, while the one long-held note in the Offertorium was eerily disturbing. Coming completely into her own in the famous Libera Me with chorus, her agonising “Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death…” was splendidly chilling.
Mezzo-soprano Milijana Nikolic provided considered and intelligent singing in some of the most profound passages, adding depth and strength to the Agnus Dei and Lux aeterna. Her creamy rich mezzo was splendid in the middle and top registers. However, she had some difficulty in the lower register where her diction lacked clarity.
Diego Torre’s ringing Italianate tenor, soaring effortlessly above the orchestra with powerful top notes, was splendid. Operatic in style and delivery, the sound was thrilling. He had no difficulty with any of the demanding passages, and was particularly impressive in the Ingemisco where his hopeful pleas for mercy were tenderly crafted. Very fine singing indeed.
Warwick Fyfe who was announced as being unwell at the opening, fortunately managed to give a surprisingly good performance throughout. He is a fine baritone with excellent diction and intonation but, in this Requiem, was miscast in a role which requires a darker bass line to give depth and gravitas to the work, particularly in the many passages with all four soloists where a lighter baritone can be overpowered.
The three chorales who joined forces for the Requiem were overwhelmingly impressive vocally and dramatically, their collective power delivering a fine Dies Irae, followed by Sanctus and the final Libera Me, including the Dies Irae. Singing in Latin, occasionally their diction was muddy, but mostly they worked strongly together and were equally impressive in the softer passages.
Overall, a fine performance of the great Requiem which both moved and delighted the audience with its power and tenderness in equal measure.