Classical ensembles love to celebrate composer anniversaries, and few parties will be bigger than this year’s double-barreled, Verdi-Wagner bicentennial. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, as it turns out, has pressed a single maestro into service — the Italian conductor Daniele Gatti — to mark both occasions. In March he will conduct an all-Wagner program, and Thursday night in Symphony Hall, he led the BSO, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and a quartet of vocal soloists in a dynamic and viscerally charged performance of Verdi’s monumental Requiem.
Written in tribute to the writer and Italian national hero Alessandro Manzoni, the Requiem uses a setting that famously weds the sacred and the profane, music of the church and of the theater. Reviewing its 1878 Boston premiere by the Handel and Haydn Society, John Sullivan Dwight cited its delicate beauty but also noted its “cheap and coarse effects in plenty.” Even modern audiences who have come to love this masterwork can agree that Virgil Thomson’s quip about Messiaen may be applied here too: There are plenty of moments designed to simultaneously open the gates of heaven and bring down the house.