Fifty-one year-old Daniele Gatti has been the subject of much speculation in Boston lately. He has emerged as a frontrunner in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's search for a new music director, and his performance of Giuseppe Verdi's monumental Requiem Mass on Friday night had the feel of an audition.
I was generally quite impressed by Maestro Gatti's conducting. There was great passion and dynamic variation to his interpretation, but there was also considerable nuance; he did not simply rely on the sheer size of the piece. In fact, I found this to be a remarkably intimate performance on the whole. Even some of the louder sections had a remarkably personal feel, accomplished by excellent balance and truly superb handling of the chorus. Maestro Gatti supported the soloists beautifully, and in places challenged them, as well. At one point in the Ingemisco, he brought the string tremolo to a forte, inviting teno Stuart Neill to soar above the orchestra, which the tenor did with grace. The Maestro never overpowered the quartet, but he gave them no kid glove treatment, either.
There was no getting around the fact that the Dies irae was exceptionally slow. At first I thought it might work, as the deliberate tempo really showcased John Oliver's Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which sounded terrific throughout the performance. Every time the Dies irae returned, however, it was a bit staler than the last time we had heard it. I also felt that the pauses between sections were far too long. Having to listen to more than ten seconds of coughs and rustling programs before the Offertorio finally began nearly killed the tension of the performance. Questionable intonation at the entrance of the celli did not help matters.
Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova was, without a doubt, the highlight of the vocal quartet. Her sound was clear, warm, and full. Her Liber scriptus was assertive, and the opening of the Recordare was absolutely stunning in its tender beauty. It all seemed completely effortless for her. The one blemish was that she began the Lacrymosa with perhaps a hair too much force.
The other three soloists were not so inspiring. Soprano Fiorenza Cedolins was markedly inconsistent: While she had some excellent moments of brightness and clarity, her tone was often thin and in places struck me as too dark. Her wobbly vibrato was a constant distraction and often obscured her pitch. Her Libera me had little power behind it, and her cry of “tremens factus sum ego” was breathy: a perfectly fine artistic choice, but to me it seemed affected. Carlo Colombara sounded positively overwhelmed by the bass part. His intonation was unreliable, his lower register was gravelly, and his Confutatis scared me not at all. Stuart Neill, filling in for ailing tenor Fabio Sartori in all three performances, sounded stretched here and there, but had his moments. In the Hostias, his tone was less than crystalline, but I was deeply moved by the sincerity of the loving reverence I heard in his voice.
What struck me most about this Requiem was that Maestro Gatti drew a convincing performance out of an orchestra that has seemed to lack confidence when I have heard it in recent years. It is no secret that this once-great ensemble is in urgent need of strong leadership if it is to rebuild the legacy that was damaged after years without a constant presence on the podium. To say whether Daniele Gatti can be a transformational conductor in Boston would be reckless prognostication, but he certainly seems capable of producing very fine work with this orchestra.