|Tamara Wilson, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenement - photo BBC Proms|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 09 2016
Musical, well-modulated performance showcasing the wonderful youth chorus
For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.
Verdi himself conducted the UK premiere of the Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall in 1875 when the choir was huge (numbering as many as 1000 I have heard). On Friday we had nearly 300 young singers from Berkshire Youth Choir, Finchley Children's Music Group, Hampshire County Youth Choir, Hertfordshire County Youth Choir, CBSO Youth Chorus, National Youth Choir of Wales, University of Aberdeen Chamber Choir, and University of Birmingham Voices.
The BBC Youth Choir was one of the highlights of the evening, the young singers opening the work with a wonderful hushed 'Requiem' sung from memory, all eyes on Marin Alsop. They sang with a finely clear, transparent tone, certainly bringing youthful verve to the performance but sophistication too. Whilst the tone was often soft-grained, they were finely ardent not to say powerful in the 'Dies Irae' which recurs throughout the work. The 'Sanctus' was rightly a choral showpiece, with crisp dancing rhythms and energising transparent textures, and their concluding 'Libera me' fugue was really vehement.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment filled the platform, fielding some 60 strings, yet the sound had a transparency and openness of texture with much less of the uniform string-dominated sound of a modern orchestra. This meant that there was greater space between the notes for the singers to take advantage of, but also gave a lovely feeling of multi-levelled detail in moments like the 'Sanctus', and the bleached string tone in the 'Offertorium' on soprano Tamara Wilson's entry was simply magical.
The soloists clearly took great advantage of the space given them, and this certainly was not a performance which was over sung. Each of the soloists brought a fine sense of control to their performance, and a well modulated sense of phrasing.
Soprano Tamara Wilson brought a nice spinto heft to the part, but this was combined with a lovely ability to float the higher notes so that there were lots of moments when we were able to appreciate her high, gentle singing which culminated in the quiet 'Requiem aeternam' passage in the 'Libera me' with a lovely floated top note at the end, all beautifully supported by warm hushed tones in the choir. Elsewhere in the 'Libera me' Wilson showed quite how vehement and spinto-like she could be when necessary.
Alisa Kolosova had a richly focussed mezzo-soprano, with a nice evenness over the whole range, and I was repeatedly impressed with the fluid shapeliness of her phrasing.
There was a welcome hint of steel in Dimitri Pittas's tenor, and though he sometimes tightened somewhat in the very upper registers, he showed a fine willingness to sing quietly and phrase gently. His 'Hostias' was finely done, and though it perhaps lacked the ultimate sheen in the voice, it was a performance of great character.
Bass Morris Robinson was wonderfully trenchant on his first entry, using his glorious dark voice to great effect. But he could also sing quietly, and in moments like the 'Oro supplex et acclinis' in the 'Dies Irae' was more prayerful.
Whilst the soloists were nicely flexible individually, there was more of a hint of stiffness in the phrasing in the trios and quartets. But Wilson and Kolosova made a lovely duet pairing in the 'Recordare' and 'Agnus Dei', creating a unified blend and listening to each other to produce some finely balanced phrasing.
Marin Alsop drew a nicely fluid and flowing performance, never seeming rushed but never dallying overmuch. Whilst it did not stint on the noisy moments, there was little of the feeling of staring into the abyss. Similarly, the soloists brought balance and musicality, giving finely modulated performances which could perhaps have done with a bit more temperament. All in all this was a finely musical and well modulated performance, which really showcased the talents of the BBC Youth Chorus.
This review also appears on Opera Today.
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