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Let's get the nonsense about Verdi's Requiem being his greatest opera out of the way. It isn't, for the obvious reason that it's not an opera. Operatic in style at a number of points, yes, but that's not the same thing. And it was a concern for the bigger picture that came across in Derby Bach Choir's performance with conductor Richard Roddis – Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 19 November 2022.
Not that the vivid moments were short-changed in any way, but Verdi's fresco-in-sound emerged all of a piece.
With Derby Bach Orchestra leading the way, the hushed opening had remarkable control. 'Dies irae' didn't rely on just making a big noise but had real character; 'Tuba mirum', with the trumpets placed on opposite sides of the orchestra, was thrilling, though it was also the only time when the choir was overbalanced. The two big fugues, 'Sanctus' and 'Libera me', were both propulsive and sure-footed.
Of the soloists, soprano Claire Seaton made a particularly big impression, soaring effortlessly in 'Rex tremendae', and projecting a breathless near-panic in 'Tremens factus sum ego'. Alto Kate Symonds-Joy was commanding in 'Liber scriptus', and the two were superbly matched in 'Recordare, Jesu pie' and 'Agnus Dei'. Tenor Luis Gomes has a big voice in the Italianate mould, and though his first entry, in the 'Kyrie eleison', was a little uncontrolled, he soon settled into the part, and he blended admirably with his colleagues, particularly in the 'Quid sum miser' and 'Lux aeterna' trios. Bass David Ireland used his dark tone to superb effect in 'Mors stupebit', and in leading the 'Confutatis maledictis' with considerable intensity.
As I've suggested, it wasn't the big moments that made the biggest impression, exciting though they were. The soft passage of choral chant at the start of the 'Libera me' was particularly special, sounding more than ever like the heart of the whole work, with everything converging on that point. The choir's subdued calls of 'Libera me' at the very end had just the right suggestion of a coming to rest freighted with emotional exhaustion.
Copyright © 9 December 2022
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