RSNO / Sondergard

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 

There are other works of epic scale to end a season on a high, but Verdi’s Requiem is one of a kind – and this performance made the very most of all its theatrical ingredients. Considering that there had been a last-minute change to 50% of its featured soloists – soprano Gabriela Scherer replacing an indisposed Emily Magee and Peter Auty in for Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim – that was a particular tribute to the front-stage line-up and to conductor Thomas Sondergard, always in masterful control of all those ingredients. 

That quartet of soloists, completed by rich-toned Georgian bass George Andguladze and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston, in magnificent voice and an authoritative stage presence, met the challenges of their solo spots with aplomb, but more crucially combined in duet, trio and quartet for some lovely, often unaccompanied, singing. This was a blend of voices that was not planned and can have had little rehearsal, but it worked. 

Behind them, the RSNO was on magnificent form for a score that allows so many sections to shine, notably Katherine Bryan’s flutes and David Hubbard’s bassoons among the winds, the trumpets on and off stage, and the trombones in the Sanctus. The muted first violins brought a lovely haunting quality to the Offertorio Quartet and percussionists Simon Lowden and John Poulter added precision mighty beats to the Requiem’s big hit, the repeated Dies irae. 

That chorus sounded immense, as well it might with 190 voices in the choir stalls. RSNO Chorus Director Stephen Doughty, completing his first season in charge of the choir, had drafted in additions from the East Lothian-based Garleton Singers, which he also directs, and some young voices from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The result was a huge machine that never really had to move into overdrive to fill the hall with sound. 

Not that there was any use of cruise control either. This was a finely calibrated, if enormous, instrument, just as impressive when singing very quietly indeed, and Doughty and Sondergard deployed and split its sections very carefully to precisely measured effect. 

That sort of detail is what a performance of this work is all about, as Verdi separates the few moments when everyone on the platform is employed with all sorts of combinations of instrumental scoring and vocal colours. Of course, the text often sounds nothing at all like “Church Latin” because it is being sung in the manner of the opera house, but it is curious how a section like the Lacrymosa at the end of the Dies irae can sound simultaneously like a hymn as well as an entire dramatic scene. 

Being able to keep both those inspirations in mind as well as evident to the audience is the challenge of Verdi’s Requiem, and one that this vast cast of musicians all met to a gold standard. 

Keith Bruce 

Portrait of Jennifer Johnston by RT Dunphy