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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Requiem (1876)
Kristin Lewis (soprano), Violeta Urmana (mezzo), Piotr Beczala (tenor), Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Choir and Orchestra of Paris Opera/Philippe Jordan
rec. live, Opéra Bastille, Paris, 10-11 June 2013
WARNER ERATO 9341402 [77.05]

When I first opened this CD box I was initially nonplussed to find that this recording had managed to squeeze the whole of the Verdi Requiem onto one disc, and moreover done so with a bit of room to spare. There has been quite a long tradition of treating the Requiem in a fast and dramatic fashion stretching back as far on disc as Toscanini but even within this tradition it has always been necessary to stretch the work across two CDs. Richard Hickox managed to get it onto one disc, but a very full one. Comparisons with Georg Solti’s first recording (Vienna) shows that in every single movement of this performance with the exception of the Sanctus Philippe Jordan is quicker than Solti - himself no slouch - sometimes by as much as a minute or so. This might have made for an exciting live performance - the recording was assembled from two such - but for repeated listening on record there is an unmistakeable sense of haste which makes itself felt all too often. The closing “Pie Jesu” in the Dies irae sounds simply superficial at this speed. The acceleration in the “Inter oves” section of the same movement goes far beyond Verdi’s marking of a two-bar animando to completely ruin the beautiful sense of mystery at this moment.
The unwanted sense of haste also plays havoc with some of Verdi’s balances. In the opening of the Dies irae the rising trumpet semiquavers are simply inaudible. Even at the very beginning the quiet strings muffle the initial entry of the chorus on the word “Requiem”. The soloists are microphoned very closely, with perturbing results at the beginning of the “Kyrie”. At other times they seem to recede into the middle distance. The chorus when singing quietly are very quiet indeed, but at the climaxes they deliver at full throttle with even some hint of shouting during the detached phrases of the “Dies irae”.
The soloists themselves too often sound discommoded by Jordan’s speeds, with some decidedly inelegant delivery of Verdi’s turns and grupetti. Kristin Lewis and Violeta Urmana sound particularly uncomfortable in the evocative opening of the Agnus Dei where their solo octaves are totally robbed of all sense of atmosphere, to the extent that their tuning becomes suspect. Urmana has strong top notes and to spare, but sounds rather weak in her lower register. Although Lewis floats her final stratospheric note in the unaccompanied section of the Libera me very beautifully, she sounds far too matter-of-fact earlier in the same passage at Jordan’s rather hasty traversal of the music. Piotr Beczala is similarly hampered in his “Ingemisco”, and only Ildar Abdrazakov manages to make much of an individual effect with a very beautiful mezza voce in his “Oro supplex”. Comparison with Solti’s Vienna line-up, the most superlatively consistent team on disc - Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, the young Luciano Pavarotti and Martti Talvela - continually show the sense of the style that is missing here. For the spiritual element in the score you need to go to Giulini. Even the financial advantage of having the whole work on one CD is obviated when you consider that both the Giulini and Solti sets are available at mid-price, and their studio recordings reveal much more detail in the score than is possible here.
Paul Corfield Godfrey

Masterwork Index: Verdi requiem