In the penultimate Prom of the 2016 season, popular conductor Marin Alsop lead the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the massed ranks of the BBC Proms Youth Choir and talented soloists Tamara Wilson (soprano), Alisa Kolosova (mezzo soprano), Dimitri Pittas (tenor) and Morris Robinson (Bass) for a performance of Verdi’s Requiem.
Verdi had written part of the Requiem as part of an intended collective project to honour fellow composer Gioachino Rossini, however the project was never completed. A few years later, his friend Alessandro Manzoni died and Verdi decided to write a complete requiem in his honour. He decided to include four vocal soloists, a chorus of mixed voices and a large orchestra in a complex score that followed the traditional Latin text. In 1874 on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, Verdi himself conducted the first performance in Milan’s church of San Marco to a generally enthusiastic audience, although some critics suggested it was too operatic for a religious piece of music. The Requiem’s first UK performance took place a year afterwards at the Royal Albert Hall with Verdi conducting. The first complete Proms Requiem was in 1956 and since then has been performed 18 times, most notably by Colin Davis in 1997 who dedicated it to the memory of Georg Solti who had died just before the concert.
The work begins quietly with the hushed voices for Introit and Kyrie consisting of the four soloists and choir, however, the work launches into different territory with the second movement Dies irae when the trumpets sound and the chorus and orchestra come together to pronounce that the ‘ day of wrath’ has arrived and ‘ all that is hidden shall be revealed ‘ . The pronouncement of ‘ Dies irae’ is used to great dramatic effect and is a theme used again in the later movements.
Verdi uses the chorus and the four voices to provide the colour and texture to each section in tandem with the music, the dramatic interpretation of the words make the work sound operatic in parts until the chorus brings a sense of a heavenly choir. This is illustrated fully in the short but remarkable fourth movement Sanctus before the soloists bring their finely balanced voices back for Angus Dei and Lux aeterna.
In the final movement, Libera me, the fear and anxiety is bought to a climax with the final Dies irae before peace and hushed voices return for a whispered prayer which ends the work.
Verdi’s Requiem is very much an ensemble work in which the various elements combine to produce a coherent whole. The soloists especially provide plenty of drama and passion with Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova and Morris Robinson in fine voice, a special mention must go to Dimitri Pittas who replaced tenor Michael Fabiano at the last-minute. The BBC Proms Youth Choir sang in the Dream of Gerontius concert last year and once again proved how effective a massed youth choir can be to create an impressive soundscape in which the narrative is driven forward. The last part of the jigsaw was the orchestra which Marin Alsop led with a great deal of simplicity and sureness providing the various textures of Verdi’s music to complement the text. The work ended in complete silence before sustained applause from an appreciative audience, in many ways the modern audience is not concerned whether the piece is too operatic for a requiem but just enjoy it as a wonderful piece of music.
As another successful season of the Proms nears its end, we have had plenty of evidence why the Proms are considered one of the greatest music festivals. Some of the best musicians and orchestras in the world with an incredible diversity of music provide wonderful entertainment with tickets at very reasonable levels.
Even though the seats for many of the Proms have sold out, it is still possible to attend if you don’t mind standing in the arena or the gallery. With a large number of tickets available for every Prom at the price of £6, it is one of the bargains of the summer.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
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