Just how frightened are you of eternal death? And just how badly do you feel the need for a saviour to redeem you? Because if you’ve just listened to Verdi’s Requiem, especially as performed in Prom 64 last night, the answer should be “Very, very afraid”. By the time bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny began his intonation of “Mors stupebit” in the Dies irae, I was a quivering wreck. By the time he had finished, I had been reduced to a small puddle on the floor.

Lise Davidsen and the LPO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Lise Davidsen and the LPO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The introduction to the Requiem is quiet and calm: an evocation of the eternal rest that we hope for. Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the London Philharmonic Orchestra were not afraid to make it very quiet indeed, almost below the threshold of audibility at the start, yet with a measured tread. After a beautifully weighted crescendo rinforzando, Verdi then gives each of his soloists the chance to present their calling card, with a declamation of the hallowed pleas of “Kyrie eleison” and “Christe eleison”. And at that point, we knew we were in for a special evening, as each of the four showed gorgeous timbre and ardent commitment. Dmytro Popov’s voice rang out a clarion call in true Verdian dramatic tenor style. Konieczny isn’t strong in the lowest notes, but his middle and upper ranges are full and melodious. Dame Sarah Connolly gave warmth and authority. But it was soprano Lise Davidsen who capped them all.

Davidsen’s performance was extraordinary. She has a huge voice which can soar above the orchestra at will, but which she tamed to get the right balance in duets with Connolly. At whatever level, the timbre is peaches and cream. She could start a note clean and enrich it deliciously with vibrato as the note progresses, or simply go for a rock solid top note. And she could inject drama at any turn.

In spite of being a late replacement, stepping in for the indisposed Karen Cargill, Connolly sang as if she had been rehearsing the piece for weeks. The volume didn’t match Davidsen in full flow but was audible enough, the timbre was as smooth as you could hope for and her phrasing and manner stamped authority. Popov’s Ingemisco had strength and melodic line that made it feel almost Wagnerian, followed by Konieczny’s high spot, a Confutatis that was thrillingly phrased and opulent in colour.

The London Philharmonic Choir – a super-sized version, with 200 singers – sang superbly. Most remarkable was the clear definition of words: a soft onset would be followed by a clear, crisp end whose togetherness emphasised the text more than any sheer volume could have done. The closing choral fugue was delivered with impressive precision.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts the LPO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts the LPO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

But for all the vocal mastery, the biggest surprise of the evening was the perfection of the balance between orchestra, choir and soloists, and the exceptional level of orchestral detail – not something one normally associates with the Royal Albert Hall. Orozco-Estrada has a lithe, mobile presence on the podium and his movements are crisp and energetic. The result was precision control of dynamics: these are orchestral players who can retain their clarity and instrumental colour when playing soft as well as playing loud, to move between levels as a unit and to create vividness of expression from incisive accenting rather than pure weight of sound. And there were many individual instruments to savour: the skirl of piccolo in stormy passages, a gorgeous bassoon backing to the trio in the Rex tremendae and most of all, the trumpets of the Tuba mirum, split between the orchestra and off-stage. Verdi relaxes the pace and intensity in the Offertory – you couldn’t cope with a full 90 minutes of the stress level in the Dies irae, and the LPO were successful at calming us down while maintaining forward momentum.

Towards the close, Davidsen’s voice was still at creamy loveliness, and still audible above the orchestra playing at the loudest fortissimo of the whole piece. If anyone has the voice to make their plea for salvation reach heaven, it’s her.

*****