Verdi Requiem/LSO/Davis, Barbican Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

When you're an octogenarian, the prospect of another Requiem Mass – even Verdi's – might be seen with some circumspection. Unless, you are Sir Colin Davis.

This inspiring performance with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus did not go quietly into the long night of the Libera me. Indeed, the blazing fugue that carried it within sight of perpetual light was met with a defiance that seemed almost to turn us away from the inevitable. And why not when the lusty Sanctus suggested so much to live for.

Davis had the LSO Chorus hurling fire and brimstone from the platform in the Dies Irae, their hoarsely whispered "Quantus tremor est futurus" ("How great a terror there will be") creating a frisson of fear.

But conversely, how humbling, how reverential, were the opening bars of the piece that turned a restless and cough-ridden hall into a darkened church. Davis's "Kyrie" was a stately processional led by his chief mourners – the four soloists. But a fifth star should be awarded to the two most charismatic voices among them: soprano Christine Brewer and tenor Stuart Neill.

Neill's big Italianate sound was capable of extraordinary finesse in mezza voce. His elegant dovetailing of difficult phrases in the "Ingemisco" was as good as it gets; likewise his honeyed pianissimi in the "Hostias".

As for Brewer, she gives us everything and more that Verdi asks of his soprano in this work. On those many occasions he leaves her suspended beauteously in clear air one feels transported to a safe place. I have rarely heard the soaring a capella passage at the heart of the Libera me so gloriously sung or so starkly contrasted with her tremulous descents. She was very much the beating heart of this performance.

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