Mon, 21 Oct 2019
picture by Fiona Bennett
REVIEW by FIONA BENNETT
Oxford Chorus: Verdi’s Requiem, at Reading Concert Hall, on Saturday, October 5
IF anyone ever asks me to sing second alto in Verdi’s Requiem, I usually say yes before they’ve finished the sentence. It is such an exciting work, there is almost nothing I wouldn’t forfeit in order to take part and so it was when our former Newbury Spring Festival chorus master, Janet Lincé, emailed to ask my husband John and me to sing in the newly-formed Oxford Chorus.The choir was made up from members of Janet’s own two choirs – Choros and New Choir Oxford – and it was a delight to be singing with friends from Newbury’s Cecilia Consort again too. We barely outnumbered the enormous orchestra as seating is limited at the very beautiful Reading Concert Hall, but Janet was thrilled with our sound and we certainly held our own against the full dynamic force of the feisty brass section in the Dies Irae.
The orchestra played a blinder and there were some fine soloists among the woodwinds, showing off Verdi’s genius scoring at its best. It’s possible to perform the work with just the four onstage trumpets but the audience, especially those in the balcony, were delighted with the surround-sound effect of the four off-stage trumpets in the Dies Irae and when the entire section played the Tuba Mirum, you could almost see those crystal chandeliers shaking. If you’ve never seen a cimbasso, do go to Google images and find one. It’s a cross between a tuba and a bass trombone and was all the rage when Verdi was writing his operas. We had one of those too.
There is little point in staging a Verdi Requiem unless you are able to field four powerful operatic soloists and ours brought the audience to their feet at the end of the evening. Ben Davies’ bass-baritone gave us goosebumps and although it was tenor Joshua Owen-Mills’s very first Verdi Requiem, he gave it his all and the Italianate ‘sob’ in his voice would have made Pavarotti proud. Hugely experienced mezzo-soprano Yvonne Howard was on top form. This part needs a colossal range and her performance was faultless. During rehearsals, the choir spent much of the time with their jaws in their laps when listening to our soprano, Erica Eloff. She held back slightly during the afternoon but, boy oh boy, did she let us have it with bells on in the actual performance. Incredible control, perfect intonation and the most exquisite top B flat you’ve ever heard on the final chord of the Requiem Aeternam. Stunning. After an hour-and-a-half of pleading for our souls to be saved on the Day of Judgement, we were all rather wrung out but so glad to have taken part.
Erica summed it up beautifully when she said: “It was EPIC.”
It most certainly was.