CBSO Covid Requiem review

A VERY SPECIAL EVENING WITH THE CBSO

A COVID REQUIEM
CBSO at Symphony Hall *****
There was something almost sacramental about this sensitively-conceived, very special concert created to commemorate those close to the CBSO "family" who have passed away since the Covid pandemic began the best part of two years ago.
The programme-book (and how good to have a genuine, properly produced example in one's hand again!) opened with many tributes to loved ones, all greatly moving, and then the hall darkened as an uninterrupted sequence of elegiac string music began.
It was striking how music of this nature transports us across the centuries: Thomas Ades' O Albion brought surprising resonances of Elgar's Sospiri, Arvo Part's Fratres (Tomo Keller, director of the whole gamut, the brilliantly cross-stringing violin soloist here) evokes Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, and Samuel Barber's Adagio is just timeless for those it speaks to. The only exception in this group was Purcell's Chacony, sturdy and strong, with wonderfully shaped lower strings, but even here there was a link with the Britten who made this performing version.
These offerings were interleaved with Casey Bailey, current Birmingham Poet Laureate, reading three of his highly pertinent Covid-inspired poems. Fortunately these gems were printed in the programme, as a somewhat sibilant delivery was clouded by the sound-system.
A giant took the stage for the second half in the form of bass James Platt, beside whom conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla looked like a tiny child. But she drew wonderfully sweeping lines from the CBSO and CBSO Chorus in the Faure Requiem, powerful where appropriate, but otherwise allowing all this ineffable music's serene reflection to tell.
And Platt sang with such a tender, reassuring tone, matching that of Julian Wilkins' subtly-trained chorus; this is all quiet acceptance of death, not terrified railing a la Verdi. The Pie Jesu was sung as one by the massed ranks of the CBSO Youth Chorus and Children's Chorus, their tone and intonation pure and sweet.
Wilkins was also organist in this performance, eloquent in the significance Faure gives the instrument. The Requiem was given here in the composer's original orchestration, which meant violins were banished apart from a couple of solos from Keller, almost inaudible (was this deliberate?).
So we had the rare delight of the violas sitting where the firsts normally are, Chris Yates proudly tuning the orchestra. I have this original score, which tells me the violas are divided throughout. They certainly made a comfortingly rich sound in this reading which will have conveyed immense solace to so many.
Christopher Morley

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