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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Requiem (1873)
Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano), Marina Prudenskaya (mezzo), Saimir Pirgu (tenor), Orlin Anastassov (bass)
Bavarian Radio Choir
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. Musikverein, Vienna, 2013
Region 0, Picture Format 16:9, Audio options PCM Stereo and dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
ARTHAUS Blu-ray 108136 [91:00]

This Verdi Requiem was recorded as part of the composer's anniversary year, and I thought it very special. It's a sign of how big a deal this performance was that the Bavarian forces were prepared to decamp en masse to Vienna for the performance, and the setting of the Musikverein lends an extra touch of glamour and style. The beautifully rounded acoustic works very well indeed: the opening in particular is so finely judged as to be a work of art in itself, and it's one automatic advantage that this performance has over the CD one that was recorded in Munich. The climaxes are given just the right amount of space around them, and another advantage that the Blu-Ray has over the CDs is the really excellent surround sound. The engineers, perhaps inspired by the venue, do a brilliant job of capturing the sound. They place the offstage trumpets with pinpoint accuracy at the start of the Tuba Mirum, for example, and you can even hear the plunging strings through the cacophony as the chorus enters. The balance is very finely managed throughout, and the chorus is captured with great clarity, too.

Most of what makes this Requiem special, though, is down to Jansons, who sculpts a performance of mastery. The aching poignancy of the opening is profound, and he directs the long span of the Sequenza with unerring style and a feel for keeping things moving: there is a lovely sense of ebb and flow to the Recordare, in particular. He is slower than usual in the Dies Irae, but still manages to generate excitement, while the Rex Tremendae is faster than usual but still sounds tense. He also keeps a tight control over the chorus and orchestra, generating singing and playing of pinpoint accuracy and great beauty.

The soloists are all from Eastern Europe, and that's most obvious in the case of Orlin Anastassov, whose voice is very distinctive but whose diction sounds as though it was lifted out of an orthodox service. Saimir Pirgu sounds least comfortable out of the four of them, and his voice sometimes spreads under pressure, but when he hits the target he does so satisfyingly. The ladies are finer. The smoky, sultry voice of Marina Prudenskaya injects a touch of darkness that is very welcome and very colourful. She adds brilliant flavour to the movements in which she participates, and those that she leads (most obviously the Liber scriptus) sound fantastic. Krassimira Stoyanova is just as exciting. She is fully inside the tessitura, but her performance clearly builds to a barnstorming performance of the Libera me, which she lives as though it were an operatic death scene. I found her enormously winning, as well as very exciting, and she brings the final section to life brilliantly.

Not only is the sound excellent, but throughout the camera direction is unfussy and intelligently focused, putting us both within the orchestra and in front of Jansons. The Blu-Ray picture quality is also first rate: you can almost read the music in certain places. This disc impressed me so much that I think it's now a first choice for this work if you want it on film. It certainly beats Abbado's Berlin performance with the look-at-me solos of Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna and, while I retain a huge affection for it, it also beats Karajan's flawed, misdirected film from La Scala, though I'll always love Abbado's Edinburgh Festival performance from 1982. There are no extras on this Blu-Ray, and it's rather expensive for a single disc but, in spite of these reservations, this is now the one to go for.

Simon Thompson


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