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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Messa da Requiem (1833) [63.04]
Tiziana K. Sojat (soprano)
Jaroslava Horsk-Maxova (mezzo)
Vittorio Giammarrusco (tenor)
Zdenek Hlavka (baritone)
Marcel Rosca (bass)
Prague Chamber Choir
Virtuosi di Praga/Alexander Rahbari
rec. Korunni Studios, Prague, May 1997
Experience Classicsonline

Donizetti’s teacher, Mayr, devoted a considerable amount of time to writing sacred music so it should come as no surprise to find Donizetti turning his hand to writing a Requiem Mass and doing so in a highly creditable manner. What does come as a surprise is that it is so little known.
The Requiem was written at the behest of Donizetti’s publisher Ricordi in response to Bellini’s sudden death. A planned performance never took place and it is unlikely that Donizetti ever heard the work. It remained incomplete, lacking the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. It has not found its way into the recording studio with any great frequency. The first recording was on Orfeo in 1989 with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Miguel Angel Gomez-Martinez and a young Cheryl Studer as solo soprano. This recording, re-issued on Hänssler, dates from 1997, seems to be the only other one in the catalogue at the moment.
Donizetti wrote this piece for chorus, orchestra and five soloists with the male singers getting the bulk of the work. Though Donizetti includes distinct arias, such as the tenor’s Ingemisco, he also alternates chorus and solo voices in a very operatic manner. Also operatic is his use of the soloists in ensemble.
Donizetti has been relatively free with the text. He alternates the Requiem and Kyrie and the text of the Kyrie re-appears at the end of the Libera me. He sets the propers as well as the ordinary including the Gradual, In memoria aeterna. Like Verdi and Cherubini he also includes the Dies Irae.
The work opens with a sombre brooding prelude which merges into the Introit: Requiem in aeternam. The dramatic opening of the Dies Irae, with drum rolls, fanfares and massive choral statement of the opening words is pure word-painting. But Donizetti does not do this consistently; the Tuba mirum movement is rather understated and Ingemisco could have come straight out of an opera. The Lachrymosa begins with a fascinating section where the chorus sings homophonically supported by a moving bass and quiet brass fanfares. This section concludes the Dies Irae with a large-scale fugue which put me in mind of the fugues in Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. In fact this piece seems to sit mid-way between Rossini’s work and Verdi’s Requiem, mixing the operatic jollity of Rossini with dramatic elements which pre-figure Verdi.
Donizetti disposes of the Offertorio largely as a baritone solo. The Communio (Lux Aeterna) is a short but dramatic choral outburst and the final Libera me mixes chorus with solo outbursts to create a satisfying conclusion.
Though some passages seem to have come from the operatic stage this Requiem is much more than an assemblage of operatic excerpts. Donizetti must have been at some pains to keep the vocal parts relatively simple, eschewing fireworks. The work has a suitably sombre tone, despite one or two jolly movements, but lacks the dramatic intensity that Verdi would bring to the Requiem Mass.
This performance by Czech forces under Alexander Rahbari is largely creditable. The Virtuosi di Praga play confidently and with not a little style. The Prague Chamber Choir gives a good account of Donizetti’s substantial choral passages. Tenor soloist Vittorio Giammarrusco has a pleasant, open Italian sound and makes good work of his solo. Similarly bass Zdenek Hlavka and baritone Marcel Rosca acquit themselves well, providing stylish contributions and some attractive, if grainy, tone. However the recording falls down when it comes to the two female soloists, Tiziana K. Sojat and Jaroslava Horsk-Maxova. Both have typically Slavic voices with substantial vibratos, dramatic in their own way but completely unsuitable to the music. Luckily the men get the lion’s share of the vocal writing.
The CD booklet includes the Latin words but seems to have been assembled by someone unfamiliar with Donizetti’s setting: the printed words differ from the sung text and the text for the In memoria aeterna movement is missing. There is no indication of which passages are choral and which sung by soloists so that listeners must do their best to work out which soloist they are hearing.
Donizetti’s Requiem still seems to lack a good modern recording. Until one arrives this confident performance is more than adequate, if you can live with the female soloists’ vibrato.  
Robert Hugill


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