Just back from this evening’s Welsh Prom at St David’s Hall which featured Verdi’s Requiem performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with the BBC National Chorus of Wales together with the Cardiff Ardwyn Singers and the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir.
I have to admit I must have had a senior moment or two about this because I bought two tickets a while ago but got it into my head that it was last Thursday night. When I looked at the tickets on Thursday, and discovered I’d screwed up, it transpired the friend I was supposed to go with on Thursday couldn’t make it on Sunday. What a shambles. I think I should apply for home help!
Anyway, I’m glad I went because it’s a fabulous piece that you really have to hear live in order the experience its full effect. Living in Wales might tend to make one a bit blasé about choral music, but there’s no escaping the awesome power of the massed voices during the famous Dies Irae sequences that return throughout the work, to the accompaniment of a booming bass drum sounding the last judgement. The first time you hear that live I guarantee you’ll be pinned back in your seat.
The latin mass for the dead has inspired some of the greatest music written by some of the greatest composers, but it also seems to bring out something very personal and different from each one. Fauré’s Requiem, for example, is full of a fragile, angelic beauty and it portrays death as joyous release from earthly torment. Verdi’s take is quite different. It’s quite varied, musically, alternately sombre, accepting, meditative and, yes, even joyous too. But you’re never far from the terrifying hammer blows of the Dies Irae; one senses that Verdi’s own view of death was one dominated by fear.
Some say the Verdi Requiem is overwrought, but I don’t think anyone will ever say this piece isn’t dramatic. It’s also full of great tunes and wonderful dramatic contrasts. Is it too melodramatic? That’s a matter of taste. I don’t think it’s melodramatic but it’s certainly operatic, and I certainly don’t mean that to be derogatory. Above all, it’s just very Verdi. And that’s certainly not derogatory either.
The four soloists were all excellent: Yvonne Howard (soprano), Ceri Williams (mezzo), Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor) and Robert Hayward (bass) and the orchestra did all the right things under the baton of veteran conductor Owain Arwel Hughes.
I enjoyed the performance a lot, but left feeling a bit flat because St David’s Hall was only about 2/3 full. I always enjoy things more when there’s a full house as the atmosphere is always that bit more exciting. I’m not sure why it didn’t attract a better turnout – top price tickets were only £26. Perhaps it was because many classical music fans were listening to the main Prom in London, which this evening featured the great Placido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra?
I’ve never been to one of the Welsh proms before, and was interested to see that, like the Royal Albert Hall, St David’s also has promenaders standing just in front of the orchestra although they were not as numerous as in the Proms themselves.