8:46am Tuesday 20th March 2012
By John Rushby-Smith
To some it may seem strange that Hereford Choral Society chose to celebrate its 175th anniversary with a mass for the dead, but Verdi’s Requiem is such a towering edifice of the musico-dramatic art that it soon eclipses all such thoughts. The packed audience in the Cathedral clearly relished the chance to hear music on so grand a scale, and the Choral Society met their expectations with lusty vigour and fine tone. Four excellent soloists completed the vocal line-up. Soprano Claire Seaton floated her vocal line with radiant beauty, while mezzo-soprano Jeanette Ager was darkly expressive. Both men – tenor Justin Lavender and baritone David Stout – sang well in true Verdi style, and the whole was underpinned by the exemplary playing of the magnificent Philharmonia Orchestra. It should have been a musical triumph, therefore, and the great set-piece movements, such as the Dies irae and the fugal finale Libera me, certainly set the scalp tingling, but elsewhere the underlying pulse of Verdi’s accompanying ostinato patterns was unclear. At times conductor Geraint Bowen’s introspective approach resulted in tempi that were way slower than the composer’s markings, to the perceptible discomfort of the soloists and the detriment of ensemble and flow. Verdi’s masterpiece is not a devotional work. Beset with the fear of eternal death and the dread of divine retribution, it presents its plea for deliverance with all the extrovert musical artefacts of grand opera, and a touch more of La Scala would not have come amiss.
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