tue 09/08/2022

Prom 1, Verdi's Requiem, BBCSO, Oramo review - introspective sorrow and consolation between the blazes | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 1, Verdi's Requiem, BBCSO, Oramo review - introspective sorrow and consolation between the blazes

Prom 1, Verdi's Requiem, BBCSO, Oramo review - introspective sorrow and consolation between the blazes

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha is the light that burns brightest in a hallowed ritual

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Jennifer Johnston. Sakari Oramo, David Junghoon Kim, Kihawan Sim and the BBC Symphony Ochestra in Verdi's RequiemAll images by Chris Christodoulou

Any sensitive festival planner knows to begin the return to a new normal with something soft and elegiac – reflecting on all we’ve lost and mourned these past two years, as well as what we’re facing in the world now. Just over a fortnight ago, at the East Neuk Festival, the Elias Quartet led us gently by the hand with James MacMillan’s Memento. The 2022 BBC Proms began pianissimo, massed forces at the ready for the intermittent blazes of Verdi’s Requiem.

It should have been a moving start to a Proms season which is rightly celebrating the big and the awe-inspiring. But those two years have perhaps also made us forget what unfolded in counterpoint: hacking coughs no longer discreetly masked, bottles and mobile phones clattering to the ground, the scrunching of a plastic water bottle four along (how did she do it?)

That’s what happens when you finally get 5000 people in the vasts of the Royal Albert Hall (the Prommers in the Arena are mostly, of course, rapt and intently quiet). Sakari Oramo dared to make his BBC Symphony Orchestra and the choruses as mysteriously quiet as possible – which I hope worked better on TV and radio – but it was only with the entry of the four splendid soloists that those of us distracted by unneighbourly antics felt ourselves pulled in to the expressive focus. First Night of the PromsDavid Junghoon Kim, a late replacement for tenor of the moment Freddie De Tommaso, pushed a bit at first - it's actually not a bad thing when a soloist sings sharp rather than flat; it shows intense commitment – but later won his laurels with intensely moving quiet delivery of the "Ingemisco" in the Dies Irae - shame the lighting decided to have a fit and flip from pink to orange for no good reason in the middle of it – and the haloed "Hostias" of the Offertorio. His fellow Korean Kihwan Sim also offered beautiful soft singing in later stages, not the usual from your average bass-baritone, even if he wasn't quite in the expressive league of the others. Jennifer Johnston, clear of intent with the text from the start, projected it all effortlessly into the spaces of Albert's colosseum and blended exquisitely in duets, trios and ensembles.

Ultimately, with the Libera me, it's the soprano who has to make the biggest impression. It was obvious from her peerless, mature performance of Elisabetta's big aria in Don Carlo at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition - the outstanding offering of the finale, though three of the other finalists were also superb – that Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (pictured below with Johnston to the right) would excel. Her commitment, involvement, referencing of Oramo when it most mattered were allied to a voice which may seem naturally lyric, but can still pull out the big guns when necessary. Masabane Cecilia RangwanashaShe was on the other side of the hall to where I was sitting, but ever note and word came across clearly - and she gave Johnston a run for her money in the rich chest voice, which she actually managed to colour variously (not something you often come across). Aficionados obsess about the need for Verdi's pppp top B flat before the choral fugue, but she and Oramo solved it differently: a vibrant note leading urgently (and not with the long pause Verdi also asks for) into declamatory terror. The more important moment for me is the floated top A flat on the "vi" of "vitam" at the end of the Offertorio: this and the exquisite hushed orchestral coda combined so as to make me check sobbing which might have burst out loud.

But then if you don't at least have tears in your eyes at several points in Verdi's great masterpiece, it hasn't worked. They came thick and fast from the first ensemble of soloists and chorus onwards, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra woodwind principals were as much stars in making it happen as the vocal soloists, above all flautist Daniel Pailthorpe (and the flute trio meshing with the soprano and mezzo in octaves is such a slice of heaven), Alison Teale's miraculously phrased oboe solo in the "Ingemisco" and Julie Price making you hear more singing in the first bassoon part than I've ever noticed before. Brass ensembles were rich and thrilling, the spatial effects of the "Tuba mirum" never better than in the Albert Hall, while the combined forces of the BBC Symphony Chorus and Crouch End Festival Chorus ran the dynamic gamut with perfect focus. Sakari Oramo conducting Verdi's RequiemOramo (pictured above) tended to the fastish side - this isn't his natural habitat, and having heard Pappano make it all breathe, I know there's more than is dreamt of in the Finn's operatic philosophy – but he did help his soloists make it all work at comfortable speeds and gave plenty of rhythmic kick, not always easy in this space (the orchestral juggernaut that develops in the "Lacrymosa" was stunning).. Everything ended as it began in the orchestra, quietly, and by this stage most of the noisemakers were spellbound into silence. Inevitable someone applauded too soon, and the inanities behind me kicked off in a stream of rubbish you couldn't avoid hearing, above all "I wonder if they're going to do an encore?" But that's the hazard of the Proms live, and I still wouldn't miss it for the world.

Comments

first night of the proms 2022, what is the unusual brass instrument used in verdi's requiem?

Probably you're referring to the ophicleide, much beloved of Berlioz - comes in several sizes but the biggest is seen as forerunner of the tuba. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see, but I'm sure it loomed large on the telly.

It was a cimbasso which is a later development of the ophicleide in the same family.

Thanks for the clarification, Michael. Next, bring on the Aida trumpets.

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