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Verdi's Requiem

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

The finale of the Mariinsky weekend at the Wales Millennium Centre consisted of a single work : Verdi’s Requiem Mass commemorating Alessandro Manzoni. An appropriate choice for Gergiev and his forces, who had already recorded a successful version for Decca (a recording only compromised by the disastrous choice of Andrea Bocelli as the tenor soloist). Another draw was Bryn Terfel, returning after his superb Wotan, to undertake the bass part.

This should be a work ideally suited to Gergiev and yet, as a whole, the performance resolutely failed to catch fire. I cannot put my finger on exactly what was missing except to say that the great performances of the Requiem that I have experienced have left me both drained and elated. I am thinking particularly of Pappano’s first London Requiem, with LSO forces at the top of their game and a superb line up of soloists including Fleming, Urmana and Pape, which left me shaking and tear stained. The performance last Sunday, although containing much that was excellent, was never in any danger of reducing me to such a state.

The orchestra, by and large, played extremely well but there was a faint whiff of routine. The awe inspiring trumpet exchange leading into the Tuba Mirum was compromised by the offstage trumpets being far too close which lost the sense that the calls were sounding across vast distances spanning heaven to earth. Again I hark back to the Pappano performance where the opening of this section felt like a tidal wave crashing on the trembling shore.

The Mariinsky chorus performed lustily and with great musicianship but often betrayed their origins with unidiomatic singing. The first tenor entry was a case in point – One instantly knew this was a Slavic choir not an Italian one. One must also note moments of rhythmic imprecision especially in the Sanctus and the final fugue.

All of the soloists were of good quality but only Ekaterina Gubanova thrilled me. She has a voice perfectly suited to Amneris or Azucena but also capable of melting beauty. Sergei Semishkur (looking disconcertingly like Aled Jones) has a typical Russian tenor – Bright and slightly tight but without the warmth required for this part. Listen to Pavarotti or Villazon to see what was missing. Victoria Yastrebova has a beautiful, rather cool voice which suits much of the Russian repertoire and she floated some beautiful high pianissimi. However this is only half of the requirements for the part. Written for the first Aida, the part demands the ability to soar over and dominate the huge choral climaxes (most notably in the last section of the “Libera Me”). This level of spinto force is simply not in Yastrebova’s armoury as yet.

Finally to Terfel. This part has barely (if at all) figured in his repertoire. He brought his customary musicianship, diction and vocal beauty to the part and yet, in the final analysis, I do not feel the role suits him particularly well. He had no problem with the range or the numerous vocal demands but the centre of Terfel’s voice sits slightly higher than a Verdian bass so he is placed in the wrong part of the vocal spectrum. The rolling, tolling feel of the part as yet eludes him. He may well grow into the part but one can’t help but feel that his future is well enough mapped out in the massive peaks of Germanic repertoire without trying out the great Verdi bass roles as well.

- Sebastian Petit


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