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Triumphant ending to intense journey; THEATRE Requiem/ Philharmonic Hall.

Byline: GLYN MON

IT'S been something of a Weinberg feast in the last week. First, there was the world premiere of the uproarious one-act opera, Lady Magnesia. That highly distilled piece of black comedy received a notable performance by Ensemble 10/10. But even more incredible was the fact his gigantic Requiem was receiving, in the same week in the same city, its world premiere.

Pre-concert publicity for both events rated Miecyslaw Weinberg as the third of a trio of major Soviet composers: the others were Prokofiev and Shostakovich. The fact that Weinberg was a Polish Jew dissuaded Soviet authorities, it seems, from "exporting" his music. After wandering around Europe in the 1940s, he settled in Moscow, but was little known in the West until after his death in 1996.

This Requiem, so akin to Britten's War Requiem, requires large choral forces - in this case, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and the boys of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir - and an orchestra whose woodwind section included one flute and four oboes, plus four horns, a battery of percussion and strings. Heavy reliance was put on three keyboard instruments - a piano, a celeste and a harpsichord, plus a single mandolin.

At times dramatic, at others thin and forlorn, this is a highly moving piece which asks the poignant question posed so many times: why war? From the explosive and dramatic opening where the huge, intense and malleable voice of Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian made its presence felt, there was simmering drama right through. The emotion was palpable in movements like And Then ... as well as in the Hiroshima Five-Line Stanzas. In those stanzas, there was some fine choral working, ably executed by the choir, though the tenors sounded consistently insipid. At all times, though, the boys of the cathedral choir were disciplined, with a pure sound which portrayed the emotion of the piece near perfectly.

While there was a triumphant ending, it was the intensity of the journey through some forlorn scenes which made this work so passionate and so memorable.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, under conductor Thomas Sanderling, provided sound accompaniment, the keyboard players in particular, plus the solo flute, all called upon to play complex and challenging parts.

After that 70-minute premiere, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony was something akin to light relief.

Sanderling forced the pace of this from start to finish, almost as if he had a train to catch. That said, it was an exciting performance, the finale in particular.


Asmik Grigorian
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 23, 2009
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