Review: BBC NOW - FaurÃ©’s Requiem @ SDH
BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales
Saint David’s Hall, Cardiff
Friday 24th January 2014
BBC NOW kicked off their main season at Saint David’s Hall with programme brimming with Swiss, Russian and French delights.
We still miss our previous maestro, Thierry Fischer who gave us some bold and crowd pleasing choices for his tenure with BBC NOW.
For this concert he would give us more of his Swiss homeland, with their most famous composer Arthur Honegger. We had heard a piece or two of his thanks to Fischer, but think this was a creative and impressive choice to open a concert.
Written just after the Second World War, Honegger’s 3rd Symphony (known as the Liturgique) it’s a telling score about the mania and all consuming destruction to which war amounts. It was compelling listening and a discovery worth waiting to hear live. The strings in the first movement, the Dies Irae (Allegro marcato) remained most memorable with their menacing playfulness. The heart rendering cello solo in the third movement, Dona Nobis Pacem (Andante) also stood out. This had nearly just enough intensity as a Shostakovich symphony and was never afraid to throw the listener into a state of discomfort and alarm. Harrowing yet redeeming.
Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini was our concerto, played by Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin. I was sat very near to him and got to see his hands (yes, his hands!) as he played. His highly attentive nature for his instrument was apparent and his playing felt very native and in keeping the seething romantic flavours of Rachmaninov’s writing. This piece goes through many phases and moods and sweeps the listener enough to contemplate falling in love them self.
And now for the main event: FaurÃ©’s Requiem. For this BBC NOW were joined by the BBC National Chorus of Wales, baritone Roderick Williams and Wales’ own Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano). This is a piece adored by audiences and musicians alike. All requiems are to commiserate the dead, but here FaurÃ© has chosen to make death something lovely, peaceful, not to be feared. The chorus were iridescent and the soloists both highly engaging. Elin only sang in the famous motet, Pie Jesu, a sweet and floating lullaby. It’s not to be confused with Andrew Lloyds Webber's take, since they can sound quite similar and is also descending from heavenly spheres.
This can be preformed by either soprano or treble (boy soprano) and the latter can be even more beautiful and sublime. But for the few minutes she had, Elin rose and stunned us with her angelic voice. A few murmurs of great enthusiasm could be heard after her singing. We want more of her in Cardiff. Williams' also a firm, gracious voice. The chorus, as always stellar and celestial in the last movement, In Paradisum (as the organ gurgles and chirps contently). With more to hear from the chorus this year, the orchestra is giving a run for their money.
Bring on Brahms’ German Requiem and more!