This page presents reviews of the performances that took place in 2018. We would like to express our gratitude to the authors for their invaluable contributions.
Copyright notice: The reviews published on this page are the intellectual property of the respective contributors and are subject to UK and International Copyright Laws. Their use/reproduction without the authors’ explicit permission is illegal.
British Sinfonietta, South Cotswold Big Sing Group, Saint Cecilia Singers, Nick Pritchard tenor, Adrian Partington conductor
On July 14th, as part of the Cheltenham Music Festival, Berlioz’s mighty Requiem was performed in the magnificent Gloucester Cathedral. This epic requiem requires massive forces - an enormous orchestra, with additional brass bands, 16 kettle drums, with extra percussion, and an enormous choir.
I arrived early afternoon, and as I approached the cathedral I could hear the Tuba Mirum, as rehearsals were already in progress. It was as if the very building itself was singing - an extraordinary experience! I then entered the cathedral and experienced a couple of hours watching and listening to the rehearsal - absolutely fascinating - as enjoyable as the concert itself. I seated myself behind the conductor to observe the rehearsal and take photos.
I could not see much during the concert itself, since the view of the performers was obscured by a couple of pillars. However, the stunning acoustics and the quality of the performance of Berlioz’s awe inspiring music more than compensated for this. Indeed the impact of the actual concert was quite overwhelming, not only the thunderous depiction of the Last Judgment, with antiphonal brass fanfares and a battalion of kettle drums and percussion which made the very air tremble, but also the many quitter passages, such as the Offertorium, which was hypnotic with its choral monotone - essentially an orchestral movement with choral accompaniment. It is as if Berlioz intended to induce a state of altered consciousness to prepare for the other worldly music that follows - the Hostias, with that outer - space effect of deep trombone pedal notes and high flutes. The acoustics amplified and “filled” those weird primordial chords. Also, the magical Sanctus (beautifully sung by tenor, Nick Pritchard) almost transported one to the heavens.
I was astounded by how the entire cathedral’s inner space was filled by the apocalyptic sounds of the louder movements - indeed, the music seemed to become the “soul” of the cathedral, as Berlioz had surely intended.!
Finally, there was the sensation of returning to Earth, as the closing movement repeated the opening Requiem Aeternum music. And then the funeral drums...….Amen.....
By Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin
Kuppelsaal, Hannover, 27 May 2018
Werner Güra, tenor
Bachchor Hannover, Norddeutscher Figuralchor, Capella St. Crucis Hannover, Collegium Vocale Hannover, Johannes-Brahms-Chor Hannover, Mädchenchor Hannover, Junges Vokalensemble Hannover, Kammerchor Hannover, Knabenchor Hannover
NDR Radiophilharmonie, Orchestra of the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover
Ingo Metzmacher, conductor
Julian Wolf, Musical Assistant
Lisa Magdalena Mayer, Producer
Berlioz visited Hannover on 3 occasions, in 1843, 1853 and 1854; he had very fond memories of his reception there in 1853 and 1854, notably on the part of the King and Queen of Hannover, both of them keen musicians with a special interest in his own music. As Berlioz relates in his Memoirs (chapter 59), the King and Queen even made a point of attending his rehearsals and discussing his music at length. Berlioz would therefore have been very touched to know that over a century and a half later his Requiem would be performed in Hannover, as part of the two-week KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen festival which takes place every year in May. We were privileged to be invited to the event.
A hearing of the Berlioz Requiem should always be a special occasion, and the performance in Hannover lived up to the highest expectations. The heroes of the occasion, apart from Berlioz himself, whose formidable imagination and creative genius were once more amply vindicated, were all the musicians of Hannover who took part in the performance. With the exception of the solo tenor, Werner Güra, who handled well the high tessitura of his solo in the Sanctus, all of the 400 or so singers and instrumentalists came from Hannover alone. How many cities of comparable size in Britain would be capable of putting on such a monumental work, solely from their own resources, and with such success?
But assembling such large forces is only the beginning: they need to be shaped into a single body, infused with a sense of common purpose, and balanced against each other. This is what the conductor Ingo Metzmacher achieved with a sure touch, a minimum of gestures, and complete command of the vast forces deployed before and behind him. He delivered the work in a concentrated way as one single continuous statement, with virtually no break between each movement, and a constant sense of forward motion. He favoured brisk tempi, which were almost always close to what Berlioz himself prescribed (with one exception, the Hosanna in excelsis, taken significantly faster than Berlioz’s metronome mark of minim = 56).
The large chorus of 300 or so provided both a feast for the ear and an impressive spectacle, set out on the top row in a large arc, from the sopranos on the left to the basses on the right. It was hard to believe that it was composed of no less than nine separate choruses brought together for the occasion, so well had they been trained to sound like one single body, with clear and well-focused tone, and a sure sense of pitch, all maintained without flagging from start to finish. The unaccompanied Quærens me is a danger point in so many performances: the pitch tends to sag at the end, and is then shown up abruptly by the orchestral start of the Lacrimosa which follows. But not so on this occasion: the piece started and ended in a pure A major, and there was no jarring with the A minor start of the following movement. Similar praise is due to the hundred or so orchestral players spread out below the singers: they provided full support to the chorus but without ever threatening to overwhelm it.
The success of any performance of the Berlioz Requiem depends not only on how the music is played, but also on its setting: it is one of those works where music and venue are inseparable and interdependent. Hannover’s Kuppelsaal turned out to be as fine a setting for the work as any we have seen. A large circular hall with a dome, it can accommodate comfortably an audience of 3000 as well as the 400 musicians on stage. It is spacious without being overlarge, and above all it has a clear acoustic that is true in tone without being too reverberant (unlike, for example, St Paul’s in London). There was hardly ever any feeling of the music becoming clouded or congested, even in the largest climaxes, except perhaps briefly near the very end of the Lacrimosa when all the voices and instruments are sounding together. Advantage was taken of the shape of the hall to position the four brass bands, not in front but behind most of the audience, and facing the chorus and orchestra. The fanfares of the Tuba mirum enveloped the entire audience, and there was no way of avoiding the Day of Judgement. But then would anyone have wanted to escape from such an electrifying experience? Such was the magnificence of the result that everyone felt privileged to be present at such an occasion. All those who helped to bring it about deserve the highest praise.
We would particularly like to thank those who went out of their way to make us feel so welcome in Hannover during our visit: Stephan Buchberger, Artistic Director of the Festival, Stefan Schostok, Mayor of Hannover, Ingo Metzmacher, Lisa Mayer, Hendrik von Boxberg, Vera Heimisch, and (last but not least) Volker Hagedorn.
Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin
St Andrews, 30 May 2018
The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997; Reviews of live performances page created in 1999; completely reorganised on 25 December 2008.
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