Big Hallé events, usually of the choral variety, have rightly become red-letter diary entries for Mancunian music lovers. Tonight’s Verdi Requiem duly lived up to every expectation, with one sublime moment after another from a fine quartet of soloists, and with chorus and orchestra on top form. 

Sir Mark Elder © Simon Dodd
Sir Mark Elder
© Simon Dodd
After a regrettably false start due to excessive audience noise, the opening bars crept in at a scarcely audible pianissimo, after which the opening Requiem and Kyrie evolved to display the meticulously balanced sound which would underpin the whole work. Building from firm timpani and double bass foundations at the rear of the stage, the rich orchestral and choral sounds were neatly topped by the soloists, who managed to project their voices admirably into the auditorium even with supporting forces at full pelt.

The orchestra and chorus themselves were more than capable of the most towering fortissimo. The famous Dies Irae, launched with ferociously spiked chords, had the audience pinned to the back of their seats, with the bass drum part doubled up for good measure. The emergence of the offstage herald trumpets into the choir stalls produced the most thrilling passage of the night. The excellent Hallé Choir, for their part, threw their weight around with gusto but also put considerable character into the music, reducing their tone to a stark whisper for Quantus tremor est futurus.

The soloists, even with the late substitution of bass Gianluca Buratto for the indisposed Alexander Vinogradov, worked tremendously well together as a unit, engaging and balancing their sound together with great sensitivity. Soprano Maria Agresta and mezzo Alice Coote brought enormous beauty of tone and control to the heart of the requiem in their parts of the Dies Irae, interposed by ecstatic proclamations from the chorus. Agresta was the most memorable of the quartet of soloists for her remarkably rounded, buttery tone and attention to the text. In the Libera Me, for instance, she very convincingly sang of being seized with fear and trembling. Mezzo soprano Alice Coote, by contrast, gave a gloriously warm sound in the Lux Aeterna, her handling of the passage hinting at Gustav Mahler’s Urlicht.

Tenor Giorgio Berrugi brought admirable fullness of tone even to the highest end of his range, and Buratto sang with tremendous authority alongside good clarity of diction. All four soloists were attentive to the chorus in their interactions, and the chorus, for their part, responded with great sensitivity.

The orchestra produced a great deal of fine playing themselves. The brass section, complete with cimbasso, blazed with sound when called upon, in contrast to the delicacy of the woodwinds while engaging with the soloists. Elsewhere, the strings produced a clean and pleasingly soft tone in the Agnus Dei. Mark Elder did a fine job of coordinating the large forces and shaping each of the movements with distinctive character, from the terror of the Dies Irae passages to the elegant lilt of Offertory. Each was immaculately balanced, and the Requiem as a whole felt perfectly proportioned. This was a memorable concert.

****1