Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Sir Antonio Pappano
Tonight at The Birmingham Symphony Hall is the coming together of two great Italian musical forces, Giuseppe Verdi and conductor Sir Antonio Pappano with his Italian ensemble, although, strictly speaking, Sir Anthony was born in England to Italian parents. On the death of the 19th Century poet Manzoni, Verdi was inspired to write a requiem, a project that had been eluding him for some time. The death of an admired hero seems to have inspired Verdi to great creative heights.
This some hundred strong orchestra with almost as many choral voices begin the requiem with a sublime sotto sequence which in a lesser space than the Birmingham Symphony hall might be lost. One of the wonders of this work is the tremendous dynamic range of energies and volume. From this oh so delicate opening to the apocalyptic, destructive roar of the ‘Dies irae’ this work is a roller coaster ride of sound and emotion and we can see every molecule of this passion and emotion in Sir Anthony’s being as he conducts. To say he conducts is to understate. Rather he coaxes and wills the performance from his ensemble with multiple hand gestures right down to subtle butterfly movements of his fingertips. His facial expressions must be something to behold judging by the movement in the muscles of his jaw and neck. He seems particularly focused on the body of the magnificent Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Sant Cecilia, whose voices are so crystal clear in this wonderful venue. Such beautiful diction and accuracy.
Of the soloists, bass singer Carlo Colombra has one of the clearest and best enunciated voices I’ve heard in a bass. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo stands in for the programmed mezzo soprano who has been taken ill. Grupposo perhaps appears a little anxious but gives the great performance you would expect from one of her calibre and is visibly happy at the completion of the task. Soprano Hibla Gerzmava’s clear voice soars and blends beautifully with the chorus. The three of them along with tenor Joseph Calleja do Verdi’s work absolute justice.
The other star of this show worth mentioning is the Birmingham Symphony Hall itself. It is such a well-tuned acoustic space and looks magnificent in its blond wood and fiery orange decor. Its spatial placement and isolation of each voice and instrument is startling to hear. The quietest whisper of the chorus carries every vowel and consonant to our ears. At times the instruments seem to surround us as they reflect off the angled baffles and in the moments of sudden silence, which the ensemble execute with stunning precision, the anechoic quiet of this space is awesome to behold.
This requiem is an amazing work, and this concert is formidable. Vivaldi must have been right in the creative zone when he wrote this as Sir Anthony appears to be as he conducts.
Even if you don’t get a chance to visit this version of the mass for the dead I urge you to go and experience this truly amazing venue.
Photo: Musacchio &Ianniello | Reviewed on: 16th May. Touring in UK until 18th May