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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem (1873) [95:00]
Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano)
Sonia Ganassi (mezzo)
Francesco Meli (tenor)
Riccardo Zanellato (bass)
Parma Teatro Regio Chorus and Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
Picture: 1080i HD
Sound: PCM stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Bonus: Verdi’s Backyard - A documentary by Sergej Grguric [52:00]
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese (concert); English, Italian (documentary)
rec. live, 8 October 2011, Teatro Regio di Parma, Italy
C MAJOR 725504 [95:00 + 52:00]

Yuri Temirkanov isn’t a conductor I associate with Verdi, although a bit of digging reveals that he has recorded Verdi’s Requiem for Signum, as well as La Traviata andIl Trovatore for C Major. The four soloists on this recording are all unknown to me, but the orchestra and chorus of Parma’s Teatro Regio need no introduction. The bonus video is a rather clumsily titled 52-minute documentary, Verdi’s Backyard. The menu is straightforward enough, although I do wish one could select Audio Setup in the main menu. Also, that background loop of party music from Traviata - which would be irritating at the best of times - is particularly jarring when preparing to listen to a devotional work such as this.
The Requiem as opera or church music is a well-rehearsed debate, so there’s no need to rehash it here; suffice to say, the very best operatic voices usually make for the most compelling quartet. The Parma stage is brightly lit and tightly packed, and it becomes clear from the opening pages of the Kyrie that it’s going to be a close, airless sound as well. That said, the lower strings are firm and well rounded - if a little too prominent - and the chorus are always crystal clear; such good diction is all too rare. What a pity that, without exception, the four soloists are so lacking in vocal security and expressive range. As for Temirkanov, he’s brisk and efficient but there’s little sense of devotion here.
The camerawork is fussy, with far too many cuts during the Day of Judgement, and there’s none of the natural rhythm that the best video directors bring to such concerts. I’m generally moved - and mightily so - by the Dies irae, Tuba mirum and the Stygian Mors stupebit, but not this time. It’s all so clinically done, and mezzo Sonia Ganassi’s fast, unlovely beat in the Liber scriptus is very distracting indeed. Still, the Rex tremendae has thrilling sonority and weight. Also, tenor Francesco Meli does bring a ray of light to the proceedings in the Ingemisco and Hostias. Even then he and Temirkanov aren’t always together, and that smudges what should be a glorious vocal line.
The orchestral playing is fine, although I longed for a more lyrical impulse - a glow, a radiance - that Temirkanov simply does not supply. The choral singing is the best thing about this performance, and the double chorus are terrifically incisive in the Sanctus. After that it’s all downhill, with a very untidy Agnus dei from Ganassi and soprano Dimitra Theodossiou. Really, this is the kind of sloppy ensemble singing one might expect from amateurs, and it certainly doesn’t belong in such august surroundings. Theodossiou dominates and disfigures the work’s final section, the Libera me, with her unfettered vibrato and painful inability to nail her high notes. Frankly, the end of this concert can’t come soon enough.
Sergej Grguric’s documentary is undemanding; from its opening shot of a brass band playing Va, pensiero. the tune so inextricably linked with Verdi and the fight for national identity, we move on to the usual scenic shots and anecdotes delivered to camera by a variety of enthusiastic individuals. They offer affectionate and respectful descriptions of places associated with the composer, and this footage is interspersed with snippets from the operas; a substantial chunk of time is also devoted to Parma and its Teatro Regio. There are no insights or epiphanies here, but strangers to Verdi’s world should find it mildly entertaining.
Dire soloists and dull conducting; a dismal performance of this great work.
Dan Morgan

Masterwork Index: Messa da Requiem