There is nothing that fits better into Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, a meditative, spiritual lineup of fall concerts that serve as a welcome reprieve to the summer’s jam-packed Mostly Mozart Festival, than a performance of the massive (pun absolutely intended) Verdi Requiem. And when played and conducted with such attention to detail and overall largesse as it was by the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, incoming Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra, on Sunday, the result was a rejuvenating instance of the intersection of music and spirituality and the cause of the longest ovation I have heard in my years of concert going.
After a stopped-up attempt at organizing a composite requiem in honor of Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi penned this, his own requiem, in honor of Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni (I Promessi Sposi) who died in 1873. Verdi was established as a composer (Macbeth, Don Carlo, and La Forza del Destino had all premiered) and approaching the peak of his powers when he wrote the mass which premiered at the church of San Marco in Milan in 1874. Verdi’s innate sense for drama and emotion through music is ever-apparent in the Requiem which some criticized as an opera in liturgical clothing. The piece is alternately joyous, supplicating, and rapturous – it’s a valid comparison.
Working with an ensemble that obviously had deep feeling for the music, Noseda drew thoughtful, balanced playing from the utterly responsive LSO. The opening Introit was stretched out of the strings with the utmost delicacy and gave way to a thundering Dies Irae that lost none of its potency nor became grating in its repeats. All throughout, Noseda’s controlled-yet-fluid conducting reflected the grandiose scale of the piece, a monumental expression of mourning and human confrontation with death, without ever veering towards meaningless bombast. And through the powerful juxtapositions of expansive passages like the Dies Irae with the more intimate, restrained Recordare, for example, Noseda animated Verdi’s conflict between his propensity for expressing feeling through music and the pigeonholing religious nature of a requiem. It was a balancing act between the church and the concert hall and Noseda expressed that ambivalence with well-measured silences and extraordinary sensitivity. His athletic, dynamically-intense conducting did far more than just show off the LSO and its unilaterally strong chorus, which he also led with detail and vigor – it was a testament to Verdi’s genius, embodied in the landmark Requiem, and fostered a sense of acute awareness that stayed with me even after I left David Geffen Hall.
The cast of soloists was equally solid. Erika Grimaldi showed off a flowery soprano with surprising depth and unwavering dramatic commitment, even when competing with the orchestra and chorus. The lustrous, vibrato-rich mezzo of Daniela Barcellona blended amenably with Grimaldi during the Agnus Dei and in a last-minute substitution for an indisposed Francesco Meli, Giorgio Berrugi lent a beautiful Italianate sound complete with secure high notes and even a trill. The Ingemisco was spun out with ease. The cast was rounded out by Swiss-Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow whose mellow, gravelly voice was put to elegant use and provided a nice anchor for the other soloists.
Manzoni himself said, “Music does not express any idea, but it gives rise to thousands.” By the conclusion of Sunday’s performance, many ideas had risen and visibly-moved audience members had, too.
The White Light Festival runs through November 16th. D.C. audiences can hear Noseda this coming weekend when he leads the National Symphony Orchestra in a complete reading of Prokofiev‘s Romeo and Juliet. Tickets are available here and D.C. audiences will be fortunate to have an interpreter as vital as Noseda on the scene starting next Fall.
Photos by Ruby Washington/New York Times and Opera Teen