Mass enjoyment of Verdi

On Saturday, 7th June 2104, almost exactly 140 years after its first ever performance, Truro Choral Society sang Giuseppe Verdi’s spectacular Requiem in Truro Cathedral. Originally conceived by Verdi to be a joint tribute by all the leading composers in Italy to Rossini after his death in 1868, the work didn’t see completion – by Verdi only – until 1873, following the death of the Italian poet and novelist Manzoni. Its premier was held in Milan on May 22, 1874. With its soaring melodies, dazzling orchestration and moments of mesmerising intensity, this spine-tingling masterpiece contains every ingredient necessary – passion, drama and redemption – for a thrilling evening of music.

It’s an extremely popular piece with singer and audience alike and many, including the celebrated Cornish composer and TCS friend Russell Pascoe, feel it should be performed as often as Handel’s Messiah. Brahms himself described it as a “work of genius”. For its 2014 Truro performance, under the inexorably deft music direction of Martin Palmer, the 160-strong choir and Truro Symphony Orchestra – which included four off-stage trumpeters up in the gallery – first enjoyed a relaxed and uplifting rehearsal during the afternoon. Joining in on the act, and with timing as perfect as the chorus and musicians themselves, was the sun, which streamed through the cathedral’s higher stained-glass windows during Et Lux Perpetua, bathing Choir 2 in a beautiful light. It augured well.

And indeed the performance before a packed cathedral was exhilarating for all involved and extremely well received. There was even cheering. Our mezzo-soprano soloist said, “The orchestra are so musically sympathetic – very, VERY rare – and the chorus were absolutely fabulous.” A few days later, the music critic Eric Dare, while talking to our chair Susanne in passing, praised the choir’s unaccompanied singing as being “completely in tune and together, finely balanced – an almost-impossible feat with so many voices involved”.

Special thanks go to our wonderful, hugely experienced soloists – Susanna Spicer, mezzo; Mark Chaundy, tenor; and Adam Marsden, bass – who exponentially enhanced the experience from the moment they stepped up on to their dais in the afternoon. We were especially grateful to Cheryl Enever who stepped in as soprano only days before concert day, after Claire Seaton sadly had to pull out due to family circumstances. Cheryl said afterwards that she was happy to have been able to do so as she would never tire of singing this work. She also confided, “I’ve never sung with a choir who performed better than this evening. It was so good.”

Thanks also to the classical musician and writer Jake Barlow for his in-depth review of the concert:

“Truro Cathedral is a top-notch place for putting on a concert, and when I found out that Verdi’s religious masterpiece would be making an appearance in that beautifully vaulted nave, it would have been foolish not to go.

“The celli opened the proceedings beautifully, setting the scene with solemn and broad strokes. The choir’s following entry was clear and rhythmically crisp, and they came into their own during the ‘te decet hymnus’ passage – the flowing Renaissance-inspired counterpoint flowed and was musically sensitive. The first appearance of the soloists was strong, but it was the entry of the Soprano and Mezzo that really stood out – beautiful, effortless singing that was an absolute delight for the ears. The first time that all of the musical forces came together, the balance of the sound was very good. It must be said that the musical balance was brilliant throughout, with no musical force needing to fight for dominance, making for a very enjoyable listening experience.

“The opening of the Dies Irae, perhaps the most famous in the classical repertoire next to that of Mozart in his own setting of the Requiem Mass (given how Verdi went about preparing to compose his score, it’s easy to see where some of his fire came from!), was violent, furious, and passionate – fantastic! Not only that, but whenever the entry material came back, it gained more life and energy, avoiding completely the danger of deflating. Among the other highlights of the Dies Irae section (one of the longest, as Verdi splits it into 10 movements) were the brass fanfare, which was sonorous yet balanced, and the Liber Scriptus, a solo movement for the Mezzo and orchestra with choral accompaniment. Mezzo soprano Susanna Spicer’s performance was nothing short of world class, and reminded me why that is one of my favourite oratorio movements both to sing and listen to.

“Throughout the rest of the work, the choir sang with energy, emotion and a high level of sophistication and musical sensitivity, supported throughout by a very strong orchestra. Conductor Martin Palmer was multi-faceted in his approach – minimalistic, allowing the music to breathe and speak for itself, as well as being active and driven enough to spur the choir and orchestra on to a brilliant performance. All of those involved should be very proud, and I look forward to the next concert.”

Read Jake’s blog and other music reviews here.

Photographs of the day