Verdi Requiem at the Three Choirs Festival


Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral *****
Edward Gardner has known Gloucester Cathedral intimately since he was admitted into the choir there as a seven-year-old chorister. Over the years this increasingly world-renowned conductor has returned to his musical birthplace to direct memorable performances at the Three Choirs Festival. Three years ago it was the Berlioz Requiem, and three years on it was another Requiem, that by Verdi, which left us stunned this time.
So much at home with the acoustic here, Gardner can judge its reverberations to the micro-second, and accordingly he was able in this reading to give all the composer's many pauses their true dramatic emphasis. And, as one of this country's great operatic conductors, he found all the Requiem's stylistic links with the near-contemporaneous Aida.
And how he persuaded the Philharmonia to playing of supple flexibility and warmth of tone. This resident orchestra at the Three Choirs Festival has to be remarkably versatile and understanding, but here they played with grateful commitment, setting out all their riches, just like a spurned lover showing the jilter, going off to become music director of a rival orchestra, just what he will be missing. The image might be fanciful, but the effect on this audience was huge.
The Three Choirs Festival Chorus, so brilliantly rehearsed, sang with both power and delicacy, delivering their diction with such clarity through these vast acoustic spaces.
And the soloists, soprano Hye-Youn Lee, mezzo Christine Rice, tenor David Butt Philip (who sang so memorably in this work under Barry Wordsworth in Birmingham Conservatoire's final concert at the Adrian Boult Hall in June 2016) and bass James Platt were a well-blended quartet, theatrical and devotional as required. Lee's climactic "Libera Me" was a tour de force of controlled yet gripping delivery.
Thank goodness the powers-that-be decided there should be no interval, otherwise there would have been one star removed from this review. There are some works (The Dream of Gerontius, Missa Solemnis, Mahler Eight) which, like this seamless masterpiece, should never be disfigured by an adrenaline-sagging hiatus.
Christopher Morley

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