What a difference another conductor and composer can have on an orchestra. Last week, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra played a concert of Irish composers in a lacklustre fashion whereas this week, under the baton of Patrik Ringborg, the RTÉ NSO put their heart and soul into Dvořák’s complex and exciting Requiem, giving a compelling performance. They were joined by the mighty forces of the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and a quartet of soloists: soprano Adrienn Miksch, mezzo Patricia Bardon, tenor Julian Hubbard and bass William Thomas.

Patrik Ringborg © Dan Hansson
Patrik Ringborg
© Dan Hansson

Written in 1891 for the Birmingham Festival Chorus, when the composer was at the height of his powers, the Requiem is both forward-looking in some of its daring harmonic movement and yet contains references to Baroque fugue and a traditional Czech 15th-century hymn. It is divided into two parts, where the different sections flow naturally into one another.

With Ringborg’s masterful vision of the Requiem we were brought on a gripping spiritual journey from the explosive Dies irae to the soft consolations of the Pie Jesu. Never once did the piece lag in his hands as he illustrated his manifest love of the work, making a fine case for why it deserves to be heard more regularly on the concert platform. Ringborg made both the “Hosanna in excelsis” in the Sanctus and the “Lux aeterna” in the Agnus Dei ripple with energy, while he expertly tiered the dynamics in the opening Requiem so that the crescendo of the choir grew organically, till they burst forth in their declamation of the Kyrie eleison. In the Dies irae, instead, his drop in dynamics only served to increase the tension.

The quartet of soloists ranged from good to excellent with both tenor and bass possessing fine, rich voices. There was a silky sheen to Miksch’s voice in the softer moments, where she rolled the words of the Graduale around her mouth as if it was some fine claret. She sounded more strangled in the big moments though. Mezzo Bardon blended well with the other soloists in the hushed section of the Pie Jesu, imbuing it with heartfelt tenderness, but on her own her voice lacked that seductive, warm sound that caresses the ear. The sweet heft of Hubbard’s tenor voice was much in evidence as the first part wore on. There was beautiful dialogue between the tenor and soprano at “Pleni sunt coeli” in the Sanctus. Full, rich and voluptuous, Thomas’ bass voice had fully opened by the second part, like good port that has been decanted for a while. He sung with extraordinary power in the Hostias and showed both lyricism and sensitivity to the other soloists in the melding of his voice in the “Preces meae” of Recordare.

The chorus was in excellent shape, singing lustily in the dramatic moments of the Confutatis and nailing the fugue in the Offertorium “Quam olim Abrahae promisisti” with precision. They lilted beautifully at the start of the Sanctus while there was searing intensity to their high notes in the Agnus Dei before a solemn and hushed ending.

****1