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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem (1868/69, 1873/74 rev. 1875) [86.23]
Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Marina Prudenskaya (mezzo), Saimir Pirgu (tenor), Orlin Anastassov (bass),
Chor and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live 7, 11 October 2013, Philharmonie, Munich, Germany
Full Latin texts provided with translations in German and English
BR KLASSIK 900126 [46.52 + 39.31]

"A tribute of respectful affection, the expression of my sorrow." Verdi

Mariss Jansons chose to mark the bicentenary of Verdi’s birth with a series of performance of the Messa da Requiem with the Chor and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks recorded live at the Philharmonie, Munich.

The Messa da Requiem, occasionally known as the Manzoni Requiem, is probably the best known Requiem in the repertoire today. Many great conductors have recorded it. I’m thinking of Toscanini, New York, 1951; Victor De Sabata, Milan, 1954 and, probably the best known of all, Carlo Maria Giulini in London in 1964/65.

Few works have the power to move an audience to tears. I fondly recall an inspiring performance in 2013 at the Kreuzkirche, Dresden conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino. Noseda’s fine quartet of soloists was Kristin Lewis (soprano), Sonia Ganassi (mezzo), Francesco Meli (tenor) and Ildar Abdrazakov (bass).

The Messa da Requiem was conceived by Verdi in 1868 as a tribute to Rossini’s death in Paris. Verdi suggested that composers of Italy should unite in honour of Rossini and he contributed the closing section, the Libera me, Domine. Unfortunately the collaborative project experienced difficulties and never came to fruition. Some five years later in May 1873 the death of novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who Verdi revered, provided the stimulus to compose a Requiem Mass. Inconsolable, he was too moved to attend the funeral but travelled to Milan a week later to pay his personal respects. At this time the 60 year old Verdi was at the height of his creative powers having recently had his opera Aďda premiered in Cairo with only Otello and Falstaff yet to be composed. On the anniversary of Manzoni’s death in May 1874 the Messa da Requiem was successfully given under Verdi's baton at the San Marco church, Milan. As it became better known many observers shared Brahms’ opinion that, “Only a genius could have written such a work.” Some commentators were less enamoured. feeling that the dramatic music was too operatic and not in keeping with the text essentially based on the liturgical Roman Catholic Latin Mass for the Dead. Strengthening accusations of insincerity, the conductor Hans von Bülow described the score as “An opera in ecclesiastical garb”.

This new release offer us a thrilling performance that feels spontaneous and immediately compelling. The Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks is splendidly drilled and sounds especially well unified throughout. They radiate a rapturous passion that is both uplifting and exciting. Equally convincing is the world class orchestra which responds with potent energy and unquenchable spirit. Jansons’s quartet of soloists are wonderfully effective even if the women are not especially well differentiated. Soprano Krassimira Stoyanova has a mezzo-like lower register and mezzo Marina Prudenskaya a soprano-like high register. Under expert direction, the core of the work, the magnificent Dies irae, communicates a horrifying depiction of Judgement Day with the orchestra full of dramatic strength and stirring sacred passion in the many full-blooded climaxes. Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu is in strong, clear voice and the tenor solo in the Ingemisco section is sung with reverential expression and a touch of vulnerability. Interspersed are wonderfully rendered solos from the oboe principal. There's rock-solid singing by Bulgarian bass Orlin Anastassov who projects his voice easily and with powerful intensity. He provides convincing menace as demonstrated in the Tuba mirum with the words Mors stupebit et natura. In his solo in Confutatis he compellingly oscillates between condemnation and compassion. Of special note is the Oro supplex which is one of the score's most heartfelt melodies.

Russian mezzo Marina Prudenskaya with considerable artistry picks up on sacred expression in her solo in the Liber scriptus which is punctuated by ominous references to the Dies irae. In the Lacrymosa dies illa Prudenskaya is in inspiring voice, moving smoothly and securely through her range. Another highlight is the Quid sum miser that establishes a welcome and soothing mood. The section opens with the silver-toned Prudenskaya accompanied by a wonderfully played lilting bassoon. Krassimira Stoyanova, the Bulgarian-born soprano, also impresses with or her rich warm tone, clear diction, gleaming top register and reverential expression. Especially striking is her anguished declamation in the Libera me where she fluently negotiates her demanding part which is saturated with contrasting emotion. Her performance is compelling with such beautifully shaded singing that it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Of the many notable episodes I found especially moving the beautiful duet between Stoyanova and Prudenskaya in the Recordare. This poignant reflection on the passion of Christ has the two voices blending marvellously.

Not surprisingly there are already a number of excellent recordings. My most prized account is that by Giulini, a magnificent evergreen from 1963/64 with the Philharmonia and Chorus and soloists Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov. It was captured at the Kingsway Hall, London for EMI Classics. Of the more recent recordings I greatly admire the scorching 2009 performance from Antonio Pappano with the Orchestra and Chorus of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome with Anja Harteros, Sonia Ganassi, Rolando Villazón and René Pape. I was struck by the sheer dramatic intensity that Pappano generates in this recording from the Auditorium Parco della Musica at Sala Santa Cecilia, Rome on EMI Classics.

Recorded live, the BR Klassik engineers have excelled with excellent recorded sound that strikes an especially good balance between voices and orchestra. As usual the presentation from this label is excellent including a helpful essay from Wolfgang Stahr and full Latin texts alongside translations into German and English.

This dramatic and stirring live performance ranks up there alongside the finest recordings and demonstrates Jansons' impeccable credentials as one of the world’s finest conductors.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey