What: Messa Da Requiem
Who: Bach Musica NZ and The Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday,¬†October 8th 2016
Where: St Paul’s Collegiate School Chapel
Work by: Guiseppe Verdi
Conductor: Rita Paczian
Soloists: Morag Atchison (soprano), Catrin Johnsson (mezzo), David Hamilton (tenor), Joel Amosa (bass)
Reviewer: Sam Edwards
This astounding work is more usually known simply as Verdi’s Requiem. It is one of the music world’s great anomalies, a funeral mass which sounds like an opera and evokes in its listeners such an emotional range that they emerge drained and enlivened at the same time. On Saturday night, after the final chord of the final section, the Libera Me, there was silence. It was not the silence of rejection. It was the silence which comes when the audience does not want to let a performance go, when it cannot believe there is not more. That silence is the greatest compliment an audience can pay, and those of you who decided not to come for reasons like rain or rugby – both pretty wet – missed a remarkably powerful rendering of Verdi’s iconic work.
The Requiem is not easy. The logistics of filling a stage with not one¬†but two¬†choirs, an orchestra of 40¬†with four of the eight trumpets located on a separate mezzanine, tympany and bass drum, four solists, and a conductor like Rita Paczian, are mind-blowing. The skills required to keep the assemblage together, beat by beat, when positive tsunamis of sound must be turned in a twinkling into moments of hushed harmony, and ensure that neither the soloists nor¬†the choirs¬†are overwhelmed by the orchestra, are rarely found in full. Paczian has those skills. She has the ability to communicate her needs to singers and instrumentalists, and her musicians clearly understand the power of discipline and practice. Technical moments like a cut-off at the end of a phrase, or an opening in which the attack is perfectly synchronous, are as important as clarity of diction and accuracy of pitch. Even more importantly, these musicians displayed a confidence and authority which produced a timbre and tone utterly suited to Verdi’s dramatics. That, my dear reader, was not a lesson in choral technique. It was the twin choirs and the orchestra¬†performing¬†on the¬†night.
The orchestra developed a remarkably sensitive understanding of its relationship with the singers. Its dynamic range was enormous, and its skill in maintaining a balance between voice and instruments produced a¬†unique soundscape. The instrumentalists also responded receptively to the four soloists who brought their own creative sensibility, often operatic, but always beautiful, to Verdi’s music. On Saturday¬†night, however, the star was the choir. Beginning with a terrifying and utterly dramatic blast of power in the initial Dies Irae,¬†which managed to be clearly articulated despite the decibellular explosions, there were also times they produced a genuine pianissimo beauty, with a wonderful intensity and richness of tone that was almost sotto voce. They wove an acoustic tapestry in the fugues, especially in the Sanctus, where the choir was in double chorus. The Rex Tremendae was full of power and passion, and after nearly 90¬†minutes of accurate and emotion filled song, the second Dies Irae, where there is judgment and anger and Heaven and Earth quake, set about redefining the Doctrine of Affections, and did. The normal requiem may deal with death, but this Verdi is full of life.