This is what we’ve missed. A huge hall, a huge orchestra and a huge chorus (or two, in this case) letting rip with a monster of the choral repertoire. After last year’s scaled down, socially distanced, uninspiring season, the BBC Proms is back operating at full bandwidth, unleashing itself on the Royal Albert Hall with Giuseppe Verdi’s monumental Messa da Requiem. To see – and hear – such forces going full pelt was a thrill even if, ironically, Covid numbers in the UK are currently sky-rocketing way higher than this time last year. 

Sakari Oramo
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Prom 1 always falls to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, stalwarts of every season, here joined by the combined choruses of the BBC Symphony Chorus and the Crouch End Festival Chorus under Sakari Oramo. The scheduled tenor, Freddie de Tommaso, was a Covid casualty, replaced at short notice by David Junghoon Kim. I suspect we’re in for a season of cancellations and last minute jump-ins. 

The high octane moments really hit the spot. The furious bass drum thwacks at the start of the Dies irae truly shook the hall, one of three bass drums employed during the evening, the largest of which was taller than the percussionist and used for the gentlest rumbling in the Libera me. Oramo’s pacing was adept, controlling the Sanctus’ tricky eight-part fugue tightly. The final choral peroration before the soprano’s closing prayer was utterly thrilling, a real goosebumps moment. The RAH isn’t an ideal venue for classical music, but choral spectaculars there do sound… spectacular. 

Sakari Oramo, soloists, Crouch End Festival Chorus, BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

It’s a less forgiving space for solo voices, but the quartet here did a sterling job. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston was in fine voice, phrasing the Lacrimosa sensitively. David Junghoon Kim sang movingly in the Ingemisco and Hostias, despite some tightness at the top of his tenor. Kihwan Sim’s bass-baritone sounded a little pale in such a vast space; his Confutatis maledictis lacked fire, despite the hall lights suddenly beaming red (did someone flick the switch a few bars too early? They bathed the hall in scarlet before the end of the Ingemisco). 

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha and the BBC SO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The standout soloist was Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha. Her rich soprano had no trouble filling the hall, her phrasing was generous and her breath control admirable. Her Agnus Dei with Johnston was beautifully blended, the closing Libera me – where the bassoons had a pungently ecclesiastical whiff of incense about them – impressed in its grandeur. Her “Toi qui sus le néant” from Don Carlos in the final of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World last year marked Rangwanasha out as a great Verdi soprano in the making. This evening offered confirmation.