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Verdi, Requiem: Soloists, Munich Philharmonic, Mariinsky Chorus, Valery Gergiev (conductor). Philharmonic Hall, Gasteig, Munich. 9.1.2010 (JFL) 

Viktoria Yastrebova, soprano
Ekaterina Gubanova, mezzo 
Sergej Semishkur, tenor
René Pape, bass

The best Verdi Requiem I have ever heard in concert was the blazing performance by Valery Gergiev with the Mariinsky (ex-Kirov) Orchestra at the Kennedy Center four years ago… a Requiem with a trail of sulphur. Hearing Gergiev with the Munich Philharmonic in the same work on January 9th, I naturally hoped for a repeat experience.

That sort of expectation is usually the setup for disappointment, but after a promising Kyrie—where the four soloists hand in their calling cards—the shock and awe Dies irae confirmed reassuringly. It was a Death Requiem, but it wasn’t at all clear which side Gergiev was on and a good part of that was the doing of the Mariinsky Chorus that came along with Gergiev. Regardless of their Latin sounding vaguely Russian and the Sanctus attaining distinct features of a Russian folksong, they had their parts down pat, knew what Gergiev wanted and delivered. Traveling with the chorus he has drilled,  presumably allows Gergiev to focus on the visited orchestra to get the result that he wants. That might be disappointing for the Philharmonic’s amateur choir but it’s a sound decision for the listener—quite apart from whatever financial aspects may or may not also have played into that decision.

The four soloists were all adequate: from the redoubtable René Pape one expects no less (rather more, actually). Given her short notice to replace Krassimira Stoyanova, the nervous Viktoria Yastrebova acquitted herself nicely, Ekaterina Gubanova was ever sturdy (if no Ekaterina Sementchuk), and the young tenor Sergej Semishkur, except for one close shave in the Offertorium, exceeded all expectations with his melodic and strong voice. He avoided any tacky portamento and his chin wasn’t glued to his chest; a habit seemingly common to Russian tenors. The result was a Verdi Requiem of the most enjoyable (and least bit sacred) sort with the Munich Philharmonic turning in an audibly energized, if episodic, performance—a disappointment only compared to the standard Gergiev himself has set.


Jens F. Laurson

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