RSNO, Prieto and others (Usher Hall: 2 Dec’16)

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“…this was a strong, conviction performance of a great work with some fine playing and singing”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Nae Bad

“An opera in ecclesiastical robes” (Von Bulow”). “Bulow has blundered. It is a work of genius” (Brahms). But Von Bulow was not necessarily being pejorative. So what if the Verdi Requiem is an opera in ecclesiastical robes? This perennial argument does have some merit in criticism of the work. I see nothing wrong in celebrating a requiem in operatic style, but it is the structure and intervals within the requiem format that get in the way of the flow of the work. It is a series of seven moments, apart from the enjoyably more substantial Dies Irae and Libera Me. To me, its enjoyment is entirely secular. If I want a spiritual or religious high, I turn to Faure, or Mozart or, indeed, Brahms. If I want music to die for (le mot juste?), then it’s Verdi.

Friday night’s wonderful performance by the RSNO, RSNO Chorus and four soloists: soprano Evelina Dobraceva, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, tenor Edgaras Montvidas and Bass-Baritone Hanno Muller-Brachmann – under the baton of Carlos Miguel Prieto was at times spoilt by the audience. On the whole I have a lot of time for the RSNO followers, who do not whoop or whistle, do not clap between movements, and allow a respectful interval at the end of a piece before applauding, but on Friday they coughed and they croaked as and when they pleased, spluttering just a few moments into the desperately fragile pianissimo Requiem. Surely they could have held back at least until the forte passages. I relished – in the fortissimo Dies Irae – the thought of drowning them out myself. This may be the price you pay for live music in winter, but perhaps the Usher Hall could print a few useful tips on muting the effect, as they do in the programme notes at the Royal Festival Hall.

Enough of the audience and on to the artists. The 120 strong chorus managed to keep precision and intensity in their pianissimo entrance, and sang throughout with discipline, force and feeling. Sopranos never harsh, well balanced between the four parts and every entry spot on; basses clear, and good mid range from the altos and tenors. They sang the Dies Irae and Libera Me as well as I have ever heard it sung. Bearing in mind the size of their catchment area this pays a real compliment to their talent and training.

The orchestra were also well up to the task and played with feeling and élan. The “stereo” effect of placing two trumpets up in the gods at the back of the hall in reply to the others on the stage in the Tuba Mirum worked very effectively – it doesn’t always – and it was a revelation to hear, again in the Dies Irae, a double fortissimo, that’s four fortes, without any blaring or coarseness.

The casting of the four soloists from America, Lithuania, Germany and Russia, coming together for a couple of gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh shows what an international world classical music is, and how Scotland is right up there with the best of them in its ability to attract such talent. The work is not easy on the soloists, especially when singing with each other in duet format. Individual soloists sang well with the orchestra but the two sopranos struggled to sound homogenous in the Recodare, Jesu Pie in the Dies Irae but had got more used to each other in the kinder Agnus Dei. One felt bass-baritone Hanno Muller-Brachmman wasn’t entirely comfortable in the Mors Stupebit and Confutatis maledictus in the Dies Irae, but he entranced us later in the Lux Aeterna. Their quartet for the Offerterio worked well, and soprano Evelina Dobraceva thrilled us in the concluding Libera Me where she really nailed it.

Overall this was a strong, conviction performance of a great work with some fine playing and singing with just a few issues of coordination and integration between soloists, which is always a risk with a live performance of a work that really puts them on the spot. There was a respectable pause before enthsiastic applause broke out, showing that the audience’s heart was in the right place, even if their fitful larynxes were not.

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 2 December)

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