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Verdi Requiem

Yorkshire Voices

Town Hall, Leeds

June 7, 2008

THE debut of a large chorus is a rare event, and with almost 300 voices on stage, Yorkshire Voices exceeded hopes and expectations in Verdi’s Requiem.

Drawn from three local choral groups, the hushed opening told of scrupulous preparation; the sheer weight of tone in the Dies Irae was awesome. The spacious view of the conductor, Andrew Padmore, was a valid and devotional approach that had the virtue of unravelling textures in the Town Ha11’s unhelpful acoustic, his more virile moments finding his singers alert and agile.

Understaffed in the lower strings, the modest forces of the Manchester Camerata gave spirited support, weighing in with forceful brass in the dramatic passages, but were too easily overpowered.

The soprano, Naomi Harvey, has a most beautiful voice, saving up sufficient vocal stamina for a final desperate plea to the Lord. The much-experienced tenor, Bonaventura Bottone, brought a touch of Italy.

Yorkshire Voices and the Manchester Camerata in Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ at Leeds Town Hall There was a buzz of anticipation in the corridors and foyers of Leeds Town Hall last Saturday night as the audience made their way into the auditorium for this performance of Verdi’s opera in sacred vestments’ – as his Requiem’ has sometimes been unkindly dubbed.

The lines of choristers filled the orchestra rises behind the Manchester Camerata – over 300 of them – the combined forces of Harrogate Choral Society, Wakefield-based Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir and the Leeds Met Singers.

All were united for the first time as Yorkshire Voices – brainchild of Andrew Padmore, music director of the Harrogate and Wakefield choirs and conductor of this performance.

And what a glorious sound the massed choirs made! Rarely can Verdi’s terrifying setting of the Dies irae have been unleashed with such force and with such spine tingling ferocity, even in Leeds Town Hall – the setting for many distinguished performances of Verdi’s masterpiece.

But it was more than just the volume of sound and refinement of tone that places this new body of singers in the ranks of Yorkshire’s finest.

The unanimity of attack was equally impressive and so were the articulation of the text, shading of dynamics and precise pitching of notes – qualities abundantly evident in the unaccompanied section of the Libera me.

Soprano Naomi Harvey (stepping in for an indisposed Lynne Dawson), mezzo soprano Gaynor Keeble, tenor Bonaventura Bottone and bass Ben Davies made up a fine, integrated quartet of soloists. Manchester Camerata provided a richly coloured orchestral backdrop with some incandescent brass and sweet-toned woodwind.

The strings had to compensate for their lack of numbers by focusing on volume rather than warmth or depth of sound. A string section of 28 players is really not enough for Verdi’s Requiem in this space.

Andrew Padmore displayed mastery of the structure of this vast work, tending towards slower tempi to emphasise scale and grandeur.

In fact, at over 90 minutes running time, this was one of the longest performances of the Requiem that I can recall.

A question of interpretation of course but I am more critical of the unfortunate decision to insert an interval of 25 minutes mid-way through – such a pity to interrupt the flow and the concentration of both musicians and audience.

David Denton

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