Verdi’s setting of the Requiem Mass for the Dead has been heard in many unusual environments, none more tragically than in Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II. Verdi’s masterpiece was presented by mostly Jewish prisoners for an audience of Nazi officers from Berlin and an International Red Cross delegation. Most of those taking part in the performance were later murdered.
Verdi’s Requiem made a huge impression on audiences hearing it for the first time. Its premiere in Milan was such an immense success that three further performances had to be given at La Scala to cope with demand. As well, in London, it had to be sung three times at a packed Albert Hall. The demand for tickets was seemingly insatiable. The choir consisted of over a thousand singers, reminiscent of those colossal choral musterings that had become standard for performances of Handel’s Messiah. And in Vienna, such was the demand for seats, that Verdi’s Requiem had to be presented four times, always to full houses. Years later, extracts from the Requiem were sung at the funeral service for Princess Diana.
It was even offered in a version for four pianos (I kid thee not) – and, later, in a small Italian town, it was sung to the accompaniment of the local military band. As Brockway and Weinstock, those eminent music commentators, put it, Verdi’s Requiem is ‘theatrical, full-bodied……… and sweepingly melodic”.
These qualities were much in evidence at Perth Concert Hall on Sunday, where – unsurprisingly – there were very few empty seats. There was an almost palpable sense of anticipation before the work began its majestic unfolding. This was no run-of-the-mill account given by the WASO Chorus, four vocal soloists and the WA Youth Orchestra. On the contrary, one sensed, throughout, a total commitment to the work. At moments of highest intensity, the presentation brought me to the edge of my seat.
I had wondered how this orchestra of youthful and relatively inexperienced players would cope with the immense demands that Verdi’s score makes on even the most seasoned of professional ensembles. I’m happy to report that they performed well above expectations. They had clearly put a huge amount of effort into this – and the dividends were substantial.
High praise to the strings. The double bass players, in particular, were in splendid form – as were the young people of the brass section, especially the trombones. There was excellent work, too, from the timpanist who did much to underscore the dramatic nature of so much of the writing.
Singers of the WASO Chorus: step forward and take a well-deserved bow. Diction-wise, the choir could hardly be faulted. Their disciplined attack and follow-through was exceptional. Throughout, Christopher van Tuinen presided over events with calm authority.
The four vocal soloists (soprano Zara Barrett, mezzo Illeana Rinaldi, tenor Jason Wasley and bass Warwick Fyfe), too, did splendid work. I particularly admired the skill with which Wasley responded to the score; it was stylistically impeccable, while Fyfe was splendidly convincing in Mors stupebit, his singing informed by an impressive sense of drama. Thrilling trumpet fanfares contributed to the excellence with which the Sanctus was presented. There was a joyful, celebratory quality here which sounded entirely right. This was a concert to remember – and for all the right reasons.