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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem (1868/69, 1873/74 rev. 1875) [92.17]
Anja Harteros (soprano), Daniela Barcellona (mezzo), Wookyung Kim (tenor), Georg Zeppenfeld (bass)
Philharmonischer Chor München,
Münchner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel
rec. live, 6-7, 9 February 2014, Philharmonie, Munich, Germany
Full Latin texts provided with translations in German and English
SONY CLASSICAL 88875 083302 [51.09 + 41.08]

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

Maazel was chief conductor of the Münchner Philharmoniker until shortly before his death in July 2014, aged 84. This disc documents an unforgettable concert at the Philharmonie, Munich and is likely Maazel’s final recording.

Occasionally known as the Manzoni Requiem, Verdi’s great Messa da Requiem is probably the best known requiem in the repertoire today. Many great conductors have recorded it. I’m thinking of Toscanini in New York in 1951; Victor De Sabata in Milan in 1954 and, surely the best known of all, Carlo Maria Giulini in London in 1964-65. Few works have the power to move an audience to tears as this.
 
I recall with great affection reporting an inspiring performance of the work in 2013 at during the Dresdner Musikfestspiele at Kreuzkirche, Dresden. It was conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and the touring Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino. Noseda’s first-rate quartet was Kristin Lewis, Sonia Ganassi, Francesco Meli and Ildar Abdrazakov.

Verdi conceived his Requiem for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass, mixed chorus and orchestra in 1868 as a tribute to mark 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 renowned novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni 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 sixty year old Verdi was at the height of his creative powers having recently had his opera Aïda premièred in Cairo with only Otello and Falstaff yet to be composed. On the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death the Messa da Requiem was successfully given under Verdi’s baton at the San Marco church, Milan. As the work 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, Hans von Bülow described the score as “An opera in ecclesiastical garb”.

Impeccably prepared, the Münchner Philharmoniker, the soloists and the Philharmonischer Chor München perform majestically. This is a tightly secure and strongly characterised account, gloriously bringing out the drama from this magnificent sacred score. Under Maazel's expert direction the core of the work, the magnificent Dies irae, communicates a convincing and thrilling depiction of judgement day. The orchestra displays its dramatic strength and stirring sacred passion in the full-bloodedly vivid climaxes. Initially the bass drum strikes seem underpowered but soon recover, becoming suitably forceful.

Maazel has clearly used his experience to choose four well differentiated and highly effective soloists. All are in excellent voice strikingly gelling as a team. German soprano Anja Harteros a consummate performer impresses here for her warm, clear tone, fluidity, lustrous top register and innate sense of sacred expression. The welcome and soothing mood of the Quid sum miser is imposing. It opens with Harteros’s glorious vocal and includes a charming bassoon part. The anguished declamation given to the Libera me is striking, although she is careful not to dominate with her sheer dramatic weight. Harteros confidently accomplishes this demanding part which is laden with contrasting emotions. This is spellbinding stuff and Harteros's beautifully shaded singing, makes the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. In quite exceptional form is Wookyung Kim the South Korean tenor with his appealing, remarkably smooth and supple tone. He is captivating in the Ingemisco tamquam reus. No stranger to lofty reverential expression he finds that rarely achieved quality of vulnerability. Interspersed are lovely solos from the oboe principal.

Italian mezzo Daniela Barcellona evinces considerable artistry especially in the Liber scriptus. She is remarkably assured and is notable for her darkly tinged expressive tone and her powerful projection. One of the most notable sections is the beautiful duet between Harteros and Barcellona in the Recordare - a poignant reflection on the passion of Christ with their voices coming together memorably. Unflappable singing by German bass Georg Zeppenfeld projects his dark, rich vocal easily and with potent intensity. He finds compelling menace in the arresting Tuba mirum with the words Mors stupebit et natura and in his solo Confutatis maledictis the secure bass engagingly shifts between the required temperaments of condemnation and compassion. Of special note is the Oro supplex; it's one of the most moving melodies in the work. The Philharmonischer Chor München performs with unquenchable spirit and engaging security.

Not surprisingly there are a number of excellent recordings. My most prized now-classic account is the one conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini a magnificent performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus and soloists Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Powerful, formidably dramatic and full of sacred awe Giulini recorded the work at the Kingsway Hall, London for EMI Classics. One of the most affecting versions I have heard was recorded live in 2013 by the Chor and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons with soloists Krassimira Stoyanova, Marina Prudenskaya, Saimir Pirgu and Orlin Anastassov in the Philharmonie, Munich on BR Klassik. In addition I greatly admire the scorching 2009 performance from Antonio Pappano with the Orchestra and Chorus of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome with soloists Anja Harteros, Sonia Ganassi, Rolando Villazón and René Pape. In Pappano’s account I was struck by the sheer dramatic intensity generated in this recording made at the Auditorium Parco della Musica at Sala Santa Cecilia, Rome by EMI Classics.

Returning to the present live recording made in the ever controversial acoustics of the Philharmonie, Munich the sound team for Sony Classical have excelled. We are confronted with realistic presence, good clarity and a splendid balancing of the large forces. I could hear virtually no extraneous noise and the applause at the conclusion has been taken out. As usual the presentation from this source is impeccable including a helpful concise essay from Wolfgang Stöhr and full Latin texts with translations in German and English. My only passing grumble is that the text has not been linked to track numbers. This new Sony Classics release is awe-inspiring.

Michael Cookson

 

 




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