Verdi Requiem

Philharmonia Orchestra

By Susanna Jones

AS a gala finale to a festival of world-class music, what better piece than the Verdi Requiem? Friday night's performance was a fitting climax to the Hereford Three Choirs Festival with great playing from the Philharmonia, energetic singing from the Festival Chorus (remarkably resilient after a very busy week, and a nicely balanced quartet of fine soloists.

Hans von Bulow apparently thought better of his remark that this was "Verdi's latest opera though in ecclesiastical robes" and later apologised, but we know what he meant, for it is obviously a theatrical piece, requiring soloists with operatic voices and a sense of the dramatic from everyone else.

This interpretation was not overly theatrical but had great energy and finesse. There was a minor difficulty in that the Philharmonia were sometimes in danger of overwhelming the chorus and soloists, but with playing like theirs it seems churlish to complain, especially at the conclusion of the Sanctus, which was stunning.

The soloists were a compatible quartet of voices who blended well and the tenor Justin Lavender was impressive as a last-minute replacement for Gwyn Hughes Jones. Katharine Broderick was tremendous in the starring soprano 'role', singing with soaring power when required but always allied to great beauty of tone. They were well complemented by equally enjoyable singing from Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Alastair Miles. Perhaps reluctant to see the curtain fall on the 300th anniversary of this illustrious music festival, a packed cathedral audience showed its appreciation in a lengthy ovation.

A personal footnote: After a Three Choirs rehearsal in the 1930s, my father, then a Hereford chorister, pursued no less a personage than Elgar for his autograph. Unsurprisingly, he was brusquely rebuffed, but with the naivete of you he persisted in his his quest and was eventually successful. We still have the evidence in a fine signature - slightly demeaned by the confines of a schoolboy's autograph book. That was a different era, but I don't think that my father, in his enthusiasm, was particularly unusual for the time, and the immediate post-war descendants of his generation are the supporters of the Three Choirs Festival today. We have fine young musicians for the future (witness the National Youth Orchestra of Wales) but who will fill the audiences in the years to come?