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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem (1874)
(No. 1. Requiem aeternam; Kyrie Eleison; No. 2. Dies irae; Tuba mirum; Liber scriptus; Quid sum miser; Rex tremendae; Recordare; Ingemisco; Confutatis; Lacrymosa; No. 3. Domine Jesu; Sanctus; No. 4. Sanctus; No. 5. Agnus Dei; No.6. Lux aeterna; No.7. Libera me; Requiem aeternam; Libera me)
Fiorenza Cedolins (soprano); Luciana D’Intino (mezzo); Ramon Vargas (tenor). Rafal Siwek (bass)
Choir and Orchestra Filarmonica of the Fondazione Arturo Toscanini/Zubin Mehta
rec. live, Salla Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco del Musica, Rome, 30 January 2005. DDD
Sound format, DD 5.1. DTS 5.1. LPCM stereo. Picture format 16:9 anamorphic NTSC
Introductory essay in English, German and French
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French and Spanish
TDK DVD VIDEO DVWW-COVREQ [93:00]

 


Verdi was not a religious man. Indeed, it is fair to say he was anti-clerical and equally anti-Pope. Many Monarchists and Republicans held the latter view in response to the activities of holders of the Papal office over the period of the fight for Italy’s unification and independence. Those matters being stated, Verdi equally clearly recognised the place of the Catholic Church in the contemporary society in which he lived and worked. When Rossini died in November 1868, and even before the Memorial Service had been held in Paris, Verdi wrote to the Milan Gazzetta Musicale suggesting that the musicians of Italy should unite to honour their great compatriot by combining to write a Requiem for performance on the anniversary of his death. No one would receive payment for his contribution with volunteers to each write one section of the Mass, being drawn by lot. After the performance, which Verdi recognised would lack artistic unity; the score would be sealed up in the Bologna Liceo Musico. The idea was enthusiastically received and a committee set up to oversee the project. To Verdi, pre-eminent among the names, fell the closing section, the Libera Me. He had his composition ready in good time despite revising La Forza del Destino along the way. Problems arose in respect of the chorus and orchestra, for which Verdi, somewhat unfairly, blamed his friend the conductor Mariani and the project floundered. Verdi met the costs incurred.

In the year of Rossini’s death, aided by arrangements connived at by his wife and long time friend Clarina Maffei, Verdi visited his idol Alessandro Manzoni. He had read Manzoni’s novel I Promessi Sposi when aged sixteen and in his fifty-third year he wrote to a friend, according to me, (he) has written not only the greatest book of our time but one of the greatest books that ever came out of the human brain. The novel has been described as representing for Italians all of Scott, Dickens and Thackeray rolled into one and infused with the spirit of Tolstoy. It was not merely the nature of Manzoni’s partly historical story that gave the work this ethos, but the language. With it Manzoni made vital steps towards a national Italian language to replace the proliferate dialects and foreign administrative languages present in the peninsular. When Manzoni died in May 1873, after a fall, Verdi was devastated to the extent he could not go to the funeral for which the shops of Milan were closed, and the streets lined with thousands. The King sent two Princes of the Royal Blood to carry the flanking cords and who were aided by the Presidents of the Senate and Chamber as well as the Ministers of Education and Foreign Affairs. A week after the funeral Verdi went to Milan and visited the grave alone. Then, through his publisher, Ricordi, he proposed to the Mayor of Milan that he should write a Requiem Mass to honour Manzoni to be performed in Milan on the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. There would be no committee this time. Verdi proposed that he himself would compose the entire Mass, pay the expenses of preparing and printing the music, specify the church for the first performance, choose the singers and chorus, rehearse them and conduct the premiere; the city would pay the cost of the performance. Thereafter the Requiem would belong to Verdi. The city accepted with alacrity.

With artistic unity guaranteed by the single composer, Verdi intended the work to have a regular place in the repertoire just like his operas and other works. Although he had already composed a Libera Me for the aborted Rossini Requiem, Verdi largely re-wrote it, thus ensuring even greater compositional coherence than might otherwise have been the case. Verdi selected the Church of San Marco for the premiere, considering it to have the best proportions and acoustics. On 22 May 1874, the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death, with an orchestra of one hundred and a chorus of one hundred and twenty it was given to acclaim. Three days later Verdi conducted another performance at La Scala and which was followed by two more conducted by Faccio. Argument raged that Verdi, although using the ecclesiastical text, had not written music suitable to the religious oeuvre. The work is certainly not in the tradition of ecclesiastical works set to counterpoint and fugues, a fact that at least some purists considered did not distract the listener from the religious message. Despite criticisms of this nature the Requiem travelled to Paris where Verdi was made a Commander of the Legion of Honour. After Paris, London and Vienna followed with the work acclaimed in each.

The Manzoni Requiem, as the work is often called, has been referred to by some cynics as Verdi’s best opera! After the reverential and ecclesiastical style of the opening Requiem and Kyrie (CHs. 2-3) the music varies between the beautifully lyric and the heavily dramatic as in the Dies irae and Tuba mirum (CHs. 4-5). At its premiere the soloists were renowned opera singers and ever since, as here, it is conductors and singers with that background who bring out its strengths, both spiritual and vocal. Zubin Mehta on the rostrum, now aged seventy, has rediscovered his operatic roots and empathy with excellent work in Germany and at Florence’s annual festival. He brings these qualities to his conducting here. His tight control of the reverential, ever so soft, opening does not inhibit his letting his choral and orchestral forces off the leash in the more dramatic outbursts. The soloists match Mehta’s approach for commitment but their varied vocal strengths do not always blend well. This is a particular problem with the sometimes evident vibrato of the spinto soprano of Fiorenza Cedolins when she is in duet with the creamy-toned rock-solid mezzo of Luciana D’Intino as in the Recordare in particular (CH. 9). D’Intino is a tower of strength in the Liber scriptus (CH. 6) and in the quartets of the Domine Jesu Christie and Hostias of the Offertorio (CHs. 13-14). Ramon Vargas’s lyric tenor is in excellent focus for the great Ingemisco (CH. 10) with graceful effortless singing, which he also exhibits elsewhere in the piece. The bass, Rafal Siwek, previously unknown to me, is most promising and his tone and legato in the repeated Mors, mors stupebit (CH. 3) is solid and tuneful. As yet his vocal production is a little on the nasal side but he has a more natural enunciation of the text than that of many rather glottal East Europeans; a welcome addition to the basso cantante numbers I suggest. I did worry how Fiorenza Cedolins would cope with the exposed soprano singing in the concluding Requiem aeternam and Libera me (CHs. 19-20), as I did not want my overall enjoyment and satisfaction spoiled at the last hurdle. I need not have worried, although not as steady as the big-voiced Leontyne Price for Karajan she sings with feeling and varied colour.

There is no shortage of DVD rivals in this music with Abbado’s name as conductor featuring regularly. The orchestral and choral forces here may not match those under him or Karajan with the orchestra and chorus of La Scala, but they perform with discipline, professionalism and commitment. It is always a particular pleasure to hear an Italian chorus in this piece and the good sound balance is another plus point for this recording.

This concert was given on 30 January 2005. It was intended to be a benefit concert as a mark of solidarity and humanitarian concern. It followed the tragic events of the previous 26 December when many thousands died in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka after the Tsunami. All the participants donated their fees.

Whilst correctly recording details of the background to the composition, the booklet essay massively and incorrectly states that His (Verdi’s) work on the score seems to have left him so exhausted that for the next ten years he wrote virtually nothing, until ‘Otello’ claimed his attention. So much for the major revisions of Don Carlo in 1882-3. So much also for the reworking of Simon Boccanegra, with its new, magnificent Council Chamber scene and other revisions to Boito’s libretto which was premiered at La Scala in 1881!

Robert J Farr

 

 


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