> VERDI Requiem Abbado [MB]: Classical CD/DVD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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DVD/CD Review
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Messa da Requiem (1874)
Angela Gheorghiu (sop), Daniela Barcellona (mezzo), Roberto Alagna (tenor), Julian Konstantinov (bass)
Swedish Radio Chorus
Berliner Philharmoniker/Claudio Abbado
Recorded at live performances in the Philharmonie, Berlin on 25th & 27th January 2001 Full Price
DVD EMI CLASSICS 7243 4 92693 9 2 Region coded for all territories [88’47"]
CD EMI CLASSICS 7213 5 57168 2 8 [83’48"]


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Comparing this performance of Verdi’s Requiem on both CD and DVD has been a fascinating experience, not least because my opinion of the performance has been significantly altered. When I first heard the CD last year I thought it a somewhat reserved interpretation which occasionally hangs fire, at moments intensely inspirational, at others gaudily bland; seeing it I now feel it is not in the slightest inward looking, indeed it is often provocatively electrifying. Somehow, the performance visually is a deeper more emotional experience, not least because of Abbado himself (of which more later). It is also much more tautly held together than the CD recording initially suggested.

What both CD and DVD unite in doing is giving this performance a thrillingly immediate recording balance. Moments such as the pianissimo voices moments after the opening of the Dies Irae have a stunning precision of sound; indeed, it is rare on a recording of this work to find the pronunciation so clear and well focussed. If the climactic moments of the Dies Irae bring some congestion in sound on the CD, the DVD opens it up to a remarkable degree. Moreover, hearing the disc the first time you would be hard pressed to guess that Abbado divides his violins antiphonally; once you see that this is exactly what he does revisiting the CD becomes a thrilling audible experience: textures are indeed transparent, something which is not immediately noticeable on a first hearing. There are some drawbacks, however. The timpani, much less apparent in both of these formats than on many other recordings of the work, now seems much more reticent than the audible experience suggested first time around; indeed, the lack of a palpable bass on the DVD is a real drawback. The other drawback with the DVD is that it has completely reversed my opinions of the quartet.

Roberto Alagna, on CD at least, struck me as impressive, not least during the Ingemisco where his tone was both even and glowing. It still is, but on DVD there is evidence to suggest that what appears easy to the ear is in fact a bit of a struggle visually. Daniela Barcellona, thrilling on CD, is less so on DVD, and I now think she is the weakest of the quartet. Mesmerising on film is Julian Konstantinov, surely one of the most exciting basses of recent years. Whilst he sweats interminably compared with the others his performance now has even greater depth of tone and only Nesterenko for Muti is better during the Mors stupebit. Angela Gheorghiu stands head and shoulders above her colleagues, both on CD and DVD. The voice is magnificent and she is nowhere better than in the Libera me. What was already a formidable achievement on CD becomes an even greater one when you actually see her sing: she is simply peerless, and intensely moving to watch. Indeed, she even outshines at the beginning of the Libera me the greatest soprano to undertake this taxing part, Leontyne Price for Karajan in his 1967 La Scala film. Price’s opening phrase is garbled beyond belief (in fact, it is little short of incomprehensible); Gheorghiu, by contrast, is word perfect, every syllable given weight and transparency.

Claudio Abbado is a shadow of his former self. Gaunt and hollow eyed it is a shock to see him; he looks as if he is about to cross the Styx. However, his conducting (without a score as usual) is a revelation. He coaxes the most sublime dynamics from both orchestra and chorus, speaking volumes with the smallest gesture. Most moving is the close of the work where Abbado closes his eyes and holds his hand to his chest, and a capacity audience spellbound for what seems like an eternity.

There are currently three DVDs of Verdi’s Requiem available: this new EMI one, Abbado’s performance from the 1982 Edinburgh Festival with the London Symphony Orchestra and Karajan’s 1967 La Scala performance and all of them are exceptional, amongst the greatest performances of the Requiem ever recorded. Both Abbado versions are recorded live, the Karajan set at La Scala, but without an audience, and with a very peculiar style of filming which focuses more on the conductor than on anything else. Quite easily the most profound interpretation is the one under review here (a truly intense Lux Aeterna eclipses all others) but the most electrifying is that which Abbado recorded in Edinburgh.

Cast wise, all three recordings offer tremendous line-ups. The Berlin Abbado performance offers the cream of today’s young singers. His Edinburgh Festival performance had Margaret Price, Jessye Norman, Jose Carreras and Ruggero Raimondi, and they remain one of the most integrated on record. Karajan had Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, Luciano Pavarotti and Nicolai Ghiaurov, Of the three DVDs Abbado (Edinburgh) is the most stunningly sung – indeed, the more I watch this performance the more extraordinary I find it – but Karajan has two simply peerless performances from Leontyne Price (never equalled on record) and Luciano Pavarotti (never matched before or since in the Ingemisco, which is a tour de force of both precision and beauty). Ideally, lovers of this work must own all three DVDs because they will give between them an ideal performance of this notoriously difficult work. If you have to choose one then it should be Abbado (Edinburgh).

Marc Bridle
Magaret price (sop), Jessye Norman (mezzo), Jose Carreras (tenor), Ruggero Raimondi (bass), Edinburgh Festival Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (recorded Edinburgh, September 1982) DVD Arthaus 100 146 (region coded 2,5,6)

Leontyne Price (sop), Fiorenza Cossotto (mezzo), Luciano Pavarotti (tenor), Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass), Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Herbert von Karajan (recorded La Scala, January 1967) DVD DG 073 022-9 (region coded worldwide)

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