In its early performances, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem was considered unsuitably operatic. Here, with Sir Mark Elder’s theatrical credentials fully embracing Verdi’s style with The Hallé, this was a Requiem which seemed to wring out every drop of existential drama. While the monumental climaxes shook the floor, it was often the quietest moments of spiritual drama which were most compelling, though.

Sir Mark Elder conducts The Hallé and Hallé Choir
© Bill Lam | The Hallé

With Elder conducting batonless, the emphasis here was always on depth of expression. The quartet of soloists responded magnificently in this regard, interacting with one another and responding in kind to their colleagues. Soprano and mezzo Natalya Romaniw and Alice Coote were the best of a strong line-up, the former balancing her rich tone with meticulously controlled gentleness, and the latter thrillingly engaged with the text. Some of Coote’s lines, given in scarcely more than a whisper, were delivered passionately to the audience, sometimes even physically reaching out to the stalls. James Platt’s bass was suitably bold, again with unerring emphasis on the meaning of the text, and Thomas Atkins’ punchy tenor rang through with admirable strength of sound.

Natalya Romaniw and Alice Coote
© Bill Lam | The Hallé

The choral singing was of an unwaveringly high calibre. The Hallé Choir was widely spread across the full width of the choir stalls, making for an immersive sound. The Dies irae was suitably overwhelming and the Sanctus thrilling (coupled with crystalline diction), but the softer moments too felt richly coloured without ever compromising on pianissimo dynamic. There was much to appreciate in the orchestral playing too, right from the barely perceptible cello murmur at the Requiem’s opening. The soothing balm of the Offertory saw gossamer-light string playing hang in the air magically, and the wandering woodwind solos seemed perfectly paced. When the throttle was opened, the rasp and roar of the low brass, complete with cimbasso, made for towering climaxes.

The Hallé brass players
© Bill Lam | The Hallé

Elder’s pacing struck a good balance between maintaining a sense of structure in the whole and realising the drama of individual moments. With minimal pauses between movements, the whole Mass seemed to be over in a flash, though without ever feeling rushed. Ultimately, it was the drama which was most memorable in this Requiem, though. From the spine-tingling emergence of offstage herald trumpets into the choir stalls in the Dies irae, bells directed obliquely high into the auditorium, to Coote’s richly characterised lines, this was an unapologetically operatic Requiem in the very best sense.