This set of two CDs comes in a slipcase together with a ‘twofer’ box and a booklet including full texts and translations into German and English. All – even the discs themselves – are adorned with what must be one of the worst and most amateurish title designs I have ever encountered. It manages to combine various assorted typefaces — admixing both serif and sans serif fonts in the course of the same word — and consisting of nothing but the text. Someone, sensibly hiding anonymously behind a computer website, is supposed to have been responsible for designing this. It is unfortunate, because the remainder of the booklet is well presented and the performance itself is very good indeed.
Although the issue is described as taken from live sessions, there is no evident sign of any audience — not even applause at the end. The fact that the recording dates are spread over a period of a week suggests that there may have been plentiful patches from a number of performances and rehearsals. The recorded balance is initially not ideal, the solo voices rather too close to the microphones and the chorus somewhat recessed into the background. Nonetheless the choral opening of the Dies irae has plenty of impact and the distant trumpets in the Tuba mirum have the right sense of ominous mystery. Mariss Jansons manages to combine the ferocious attack of a Toscanini or Solti in such passages with the more spiritual aspects of a Giulini elsewhere. You can hear this in the beautifully inflected Recordare (CD1, track 7) which may be slower than Verdi’s Lo stesso tempo but is gorgeously expressive. Indeed from the beginning of the sequence onward, this performance really catches fire and grabs the listener’s attention in exactly the right way. The orchestral playing is superb throughout, with an especially plangent oboe in the Ingemisco, although the solo violin in the Offertory could advantageously have been further forward in the balance (CD2, track 1, 2.36).
Krassimira Stoyanova is superb throughout, able to spin out a quiet high B flat as well as a tub-thumping top C in the Libera me (CD2, track 6). She creates a properly terrified impression in her senza misura declamation at the opening of this movement although her parlando delivery of the words “tremens factus” (1.57) pushes her away from the notated pitches – a not inappropriate touch of drama. Marina Prudenskaya is a full-voiced mezzo-soprano who makes a conscientious attempt to realise Verdi’s dynamic shadings – even those next to impossible to realise, such as ppp followed by sempre pił p (CD1, track 4, 3.34). She and Stoyanova combine thrillingly in their perfectly tuned unaccompanied octaves at the beginning of the Agnus Dei (CD2, track 4).
After a most unfortunate initial entry where he blazes away just on the flat side of the note (CD1, track 1, 5.38), Saimir Pirgu is a good tenor and shows a commendable willingness to sing quietly in later concerted passages and a truly inward Ingemisco (CD1, track 8). He produces a really beautiful head voice in the Hostias (CD2, track 2). Orlin Anastassov makes a good dramatic effect in the Mors stupebit even if his attempts at Verdi’s notated pianissimo are closer to mezzo-forte; he is better in Confutatis maledictis (CD1, track 9) although not really producing the specified dolce cantabile. He even manages a creditable trill in the Hostias (CD2, track 2, 1.33), as do Pirgu and Stoyanova a couple of minutes later.
In the end this is a really excellent performance of the Verdi Requiem which is way up there with the best on disc in spite of its somewhat depressing presentation. I would, for example, place it higher than Riccardo Muti’s live La Scala recording with its boxy sound and rushed tempi — I disposed of my copy of that disappointing set many years ago. There are no additional tracks – Giulini and Solti both add the Four sacred pieces – which makes for rather short measure. Despite my expressed reservations about the recorded balance, these are not a serious consideration after the opening movement. Indeed, for anyone looking for a good modern recording of the Requiem this could well be their first choice — a superb and emotionally engaging performance.
Paul Corfield Godfrey