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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem [98:00]
Juliana DiGiacomo (soprano); Michelle DeYoung (mezzo); Vittorio Grigolo (tenor); Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (bass)
Los Angeles Master Chorale; Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel
rec. live, 13, 15 August 2013, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles
Bonus feature: Behind the Scenes Interview and Rehearsal with Gustavo Dudamel [17:55]
Video Director: Michael Beyer
Subtitles: Latin, English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
Region Code: 0; Picture Format: NTSC 16:9; Sound format: PCM Stereo; DTS 5.1
C MAJOR 714708 [116:00]

I’d recommend watching the bonus feature first, as I did, because this gives you some idea of how Gustavo Dudamel sees the Verdi Requiem. He comments, inter alia, that the ‘theatrical elements.. [are] incredible’ and he lays a good deal of stress on the operatic nature of the piece, saying that it is ‘more than’ a Mass. It’s noteworthy that the celebrated barb by Hans von Bülow that the Requiem was Verdi’s ‘latest opera in ecclesiastical apparel’ is quoted in the booklet notes. I certainly feel that Dudamel does the dramatic side of the work justice though I have to say that I’m less sure that he completely realises the balance between the theatrical aspect and the spiritual in the way that a master from an earlier generation, Carlo Maria Giulini, achieved.
 
I did wonder if the Hollywood Bowl with its famous half-shell dome over the platform would be suitable for this work, not least because the choir are positioned right at the back. However, the recorded sound is perfectly satisfactory. This performance was clearly part of the Verdi bicentenary events and the DVD has been issued very speedily to catch the end of the anniversary celebrations.
 
The performance has much to commend it. The playing of the LA Philharmonic is very good. For example there’s some fine woodwind playing and the brass make a sonorous contribution. Incidentally, in the ‘Tuba mirum’ Dudamel has two pairs of distant trumpets positioned on either side of the stage right on the edge of the platform; that’s intelligent but you’d only know this from the rehearsal shots in the bonus feature because the players aren’t shown during the performance itself. The Los Angeles Master Chorale acquit themselves very well indeed. I like the good, firm choral tone at ‘Te decet hymnus’ in the opening movement; the big moments such as ‘Dies irae’ and ‘Tuba mirum’ come across very well; and there’s some nimble, well-articulated singing in the Sanctus.
 
The soloists are something of a mixed bag. I did wonder if they would have problems singing as a quartet in this acoustic with the men on the conductor’s right side and the ladies on his left but this doesn’t seem to be a problem, as we hear in the Offertorio, for instance. The American mezzo, Michelle DeYoung is a very experienced artist but I felt that she tries too hard to be expressive. For my taste she seems to make rather a meal of several passages, including the start of ‘Quid sum miser’ and the ‘Recordare’. However, other viewers may not share those reservations, which are largely a matter of subjective taste. I have the impression that the soprano and mezzo soloists aren’t completely unanimous in their tuning at the start of the Agnus Dei though that doesn’t appear to be an issue later in the movement.
 
I’m afraid I do not like Vittorio Grigolo’s contribution at all. I’d already formed the view that his singing was too fulsome and rather indulgent in the early part of the work but he loses my sympathy completely with his rendition of ‘Ingemisco’. For this solo he sets down his score and, with his hands free, he indulges in the sort of hand gestures that might be acceptable, even if a little overdone, during a staged performance of one of Verdi’s operas. I don’t feel such ham acting has any place in the Requiem, however, and the singing itself is self-indulgent and attention-seeking. I can only describe this exhibition as vulgar. In the ‘Hostias’ Grigolo attacks several notes from below. His overall contribution to the performance is a major disappointment.
 
Grigolo has no sooner finished the ‘Ingemisco’ than Ildebrando D’Arcangelo gives a demonstration of how things should be done with his account of ‘Confutatis’. D’Arcangelo simply stands there, without affectation, and lets vocal colour allied with generous, firm and unforced tone do everything for him. Here and elsewhere - in ‘Mors stupebit’, for instance - he is an imposing vocal presence but he eschews any unwelcome histrionics. He gives us some excellent Verdi singing, founded on rock-solid technique, and I warmed very much to his performance.
 
I’ve heard D’Arcangelo before but the voice of the American soprano, Juliana DiGiacomo, was new to me. She impressed me a lot. Like D’Arcangelo she just gets on with the singing in a straightforward and effective way. She makes a lovely sound throughout and particularly when we get to the soprano’s crucial section, the ‘Libera me’, she delivers the goods, setting the seal on a fine overall performance. In the ‘Libera me’ she is as dramatic and intense as you could wish but never sacrificing stylishness. When the extended unaccompanied passage with the choir is reached she floats her line beautifully over the top of the ensemble. I see that she was one of the soloists in Dudamel’s recording of Mahler’s Eighth which so impressed Dan Morgan (review). If this Verdi Requiem is typical of her work, as I suspect it is, then I think we shall be hearing a lot more of her in the future.
 
Dudamel conducts the work from memory and he eschews a baton - in the interview feature he explains that he prefers to dispense with a baton when conducting a choral work. He marshals his forces effectively and appears to have a good rapport with the musicians. Just once or twice I was unconvinced by his pacing of a passage - the ‘Lacrymosa’ at the end of the Dies Irae is taken very expansively and as a result the music lacks momentum and sufficient shape. For the most part, however, I thought he judged the tempi well and he motivates the choir very well. He’s certainly alive to the dramatic side of the work but at the end I just had a nagging feeling that he has yet to plumb the emotional depths of the work - its spiritual dimension; no doubt that will come over time.
 
So, to sum up, chorally and orchestrally this is a good Verdi Requiem. The solo team offers a mixed experience and the conducting has fire and flair. The sound is good and the camerawork is sensible and unobtrusive. However, while I admire a lot about the performance it didn’t move me in the way that a conductor such as Giulini has done in this great work.
 
John Quinn

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