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Choirs united

Newbury and Billingshurst choral societies join together for Verdi's Requiem. Review by Fiona Bennett

Trish Lee

Trish Lee


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verdi NCS&Billingshurst

IN response to Hans von Bülow’s rather flippant description of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem – “Verdi’s latest opera, in ecclesiastical garb” – the composer’s wife Giuseppina wrote: “Posterity will place it, with wings outspread, in domination of all the music of mourning ever conceived by the human brain.” She was right and more than 140 years after its British premiere at the Albert Hall, the work still generates huge excitement whenever it is staged.

The combined members of Newbury and Billingshurst Choral Societies joined the London Ulysses Orchestra on The Anvil stage for this rare performance and I believe the reason it flowed so beautifully was that both choirs were not only prepared by their chorusmaster Cathal Garvey, but he conducted the final concert himself. This meant that every nuance, every hairpin dynamic and every tempo change had been carefully noted during rehearsals and brought to fruition on the night by the same conductor.

The orchestra is also a brainchild of Garvey’s, which brought about a real connectivity to the evening. Often, the chorusmaster hands over his/her well-prepared band of singers to a famous orchestral conductor for the final push, but on this occasion, everyone on stage was involved with Garvey from start to finish and that gave it a real sense of togetherness.I loved the menacing, pitched whispering in Quantus tremor est futurus and with just one discreet look, he managed to re-direct an early woodwind entry to the correct place. Maybe he could have a word with the two altos in the back row who kept tempo in the famous end fugue by swaying from left to right – it reallywas very distracting.

The Requiem requires strong soloists (it is an ‘opera’ after all) and Elizabeth Donovan (soprano), Hannah Pedley (mezzo), David Junghoon Kim (tenor) and Keel Watson (bass) did extremely well in the rather dry, unforgiving acoustic of the concert hall. Our tenor’s operatic background shone through and I enjoyed Watson’s sonorous, rich tones, although I would have liked a bit more ‘bite’ to add to the drama at times. Hannah’s mezzo voice was sublime. Elizabeth’s higher register flowed sweetly over the orchestra, but, personally, I found her mid and lower range to be even more thrilling. I do wonder how she would have sounded singing the mezzo part. One audience member commented “…she moved me to tears in the Libera Me…”.

A fine orchestra, four extremely good soloists and two choirs prepared to within an inch of their lives by Maestro Garvey made for a very special and uplifting evening.


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