Since it was announced that Alfie Boe would feature on a new work by composer Rachel Fuller, fans have been beside themselves with excitement. Add in conductor Robert Ziegler, who conducted the world premiere of Fuller’s Classic Quadrophenia in 2015 and excitement levels rose even more.
Animal Requiem was created by Rachel to celebrate, remember and honour all the animals we have loved and lost, as well as those animals affected by cruelty or neglect around the world. The piece was also created for animal lovers and workers wherever they may be. The audience were urged to bring photos of lost pets and the resulting board was very moving.
The evening began with a beautiful performance of Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens, along with poems from Ogden Nash, read by actor Peter Egan, himself a noted campaigner for animal rights. Both were wonderful.
After a short break, Egan again took to the stage, this time to introduce the premiere of Animal Requiem, before which he read the poem Just A Dog. The pet owners in the audience understood and agreed with the sentiments exactly. Robert Ziegler took to the stage to conduct the London Philarmonic Concert Orchestra and the Chamber Choir of London who performed the first few parts of the requiem beautifully. Fuller’s music accompanied the familiar requiem words in a new way whilst always remaining true to what we might expect from a requiem. The Prayer of St. Francis was especially moving in this respect.
Alfie then took to the stage (or, being in a church, the pulpit) and sang Psalm 142 and Agnus Dei; there was a palpable frisson of anticipation when he appeared.
As Alfie mentioned afterwards, singing this type of music in this setting (St. James’ Church, Piccadilly) took him back to his Royal College of Music days, when church music was a staple of his repertoire. As expected, it was glorious to hear Alfie’s voice performing as it was trained to do, without amplification, soaring above, but not competing with the orchestra. The setting was perfect and he held the audience in the palm of his hand for the entirety. Soprano Katy Batho was also lovely – the two of them coming together for the finale were sublime. The last song of the evening was Paul McCartney’s Blackbird. As he wasn’t able to be there, Alfie sang this for him, accompanied by a guitarist and the orchestra – you could have heard a pin drop. It also demonstrated the depth of Alfie’s vocal versatility perfectly:
It was an honour to be present at the premiere of this exciting new work and I’m sure that the entire audience felt the same, judging by the standing ovation given at the end.
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