Forged in the fire of Verdi

Cathal Garvey conducts united voices of Newbury and Billingshurst


  In response to Hans von Bülow's rather flippant description of Verdi's Messa da Requiem - "Verdi's latest opera, in eccleseastical garb" - the composer's wife Giuseppina wrote: "Prosterity will place it, with wings outspread, in domination of all the music of mourning ever conceived by the human brain." She was right and more than 140 years after its British premier at the Albert Hall, the work still generates hugh excitement whenever it is staged.

The combined members of Newbury and Billingshurst choral Societies joined the London Ulysses Orchestra on the Anvil stage for this rare performance and I believe the reason it flowed so beautifully was that both choirs were not only prepared by their chorusmaster Cathal Garvey, but he conducted the final concert himself.

This meant that every nuance, every hairpin dynamic and every tempo change had been carefully noted during rehearsals and brought to fruition on the night by the same conductor.

The orchestra is also a brainchild of Garvey's, which brought about a real connectivity to the evening. Often, the chorusmaster hands over his/her well prepared band of singers to a famous orchestral conductor for the final push, but on this occasion

Newbury and Billingshurst Choral Societies: Verdi Requiem, on Saturday, April 21st at The Anvil, Basingstoke

everyone on stage was involved with Garvey from the start to finish and that gave a real sense of togetherness. I love the menacing, pitched whispering in Quantus tremor est futurus and with

...every nuance, every hairpin dynamic and every temo change had been carefully noted during rehearsals and brought to fruition on the night by the same conductor
just one discrete look, he managed to re-direct an early woodwind entry to the correct place. Maybe he would have a word with the two altos in the back row who kept tempo in the famous end fugue by swaying from left to right – it really was very distracting.

The Requiem requires strong soloists (it is an 'opera' after all) and Elizabeth Donovan (soprano), Hannah Pedley (mezzo), David Junghoon Kim (tenor) and Keel Watson (bass) did extremely well in the rather dry, unforgiving acoustic of the concert hall.

Our tenor's operatic background shone through and I enjoyed Watson's sonorous, rich tones, although I would have liked a bit more bite to add to the drama at times. Hannah's mezzo voice was sublime. Elizabeth's higher register flowed sweetly over the orchestra, but personally, I found her mid and lower range to be even more thrilling. I do wonder how she would have sounded singing the mezzo part. One audience member commented "...she moved me to tears in the Libera Me...".

A fine orchestra, four extremely good soloists and two choirs prepared to within an inch of their lives by Maestro Garvey made for a very special and uplifting evening. 


Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News