Date: March 22, 2013
Conductor: Roberto Abbado
Performer: San Carlo Orchestra and Chorus
Location: The Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.
This year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival closes with Viva Verdi, a program highlighting the Italian composer’s outstanding choral music. The choral selections – Gli arredi festivi and the slaves’ chorus from Nabucco, O Signore dal tetto nation from I Lombardi, and the anvil chorus from Il Trovatore – were sung by the San Carlo Chorus, whose nearly eighty voices meshed in perfect unison. Their dynamic control was especially impressive, with pianissimo releasing as if from a distant past, and with forte so roof-shattering that the entire city had to have felt some serious judder of seismic proportions. In Gli arredi festivi, the flood lights in the auditorium were seen vibrating, as if reacting nervously to Verdi’s choral majesty. If describing that the slaves chorus sent a shiver up one’s spine was cliché, it was also quite appropriate and, at least to this reviewer, true. The ebb and flow of musical energy between the chorus and the strings in Va pensiero’s fourth stanza were truly chilling, even in a well-lit concert setting without an opera director’s vision of the slaves’ lamentation.
Listening to a handful of Verdi’s choral music, one after another, without interruption is akin to eating entrees after entrees of meats without so much as a green leaf or two. As such, inserted between choral pieces were various lighter orchestral bits, including Luisa Miller’s Overture, which features a sprightly clarinet solo, the Act III prelude in I Lombardi, with its feisty violin solo, and the prelude to I masnadieri, with its melancholic cello solo. Also included was Libera me in Verdi’s Requiem. Neither too meaty nor leafy, the piece presented a case of what Verdi could achieve in between: powerful yet diligent, blood-boiling yet properly dignified. Monica Tarone, as the Requiem’s expressive cantor, phrased her versicles with a soothing beauty. Her upper registers were clear and well-placed, but her lower registers languished, often submerged by the avalanche of the orchestra and the chorus.
The San Carlo Orchestra was a fine bunch, with their rendition of the I vespri siciliani overture being a case in point: pleasingly lyrical at the beginning, and authoritative and zesty towards the coda. However, they could sometimes get a little too loud, and seemed to have forgotten, especially the lower brasses, that they were no longer playing in the pit.