Bruno MADERNA (1920-1973)
(1946) [59:53]
Diana Tomsche (soprano)
Kathrin Göring (contralto)
Bernhard Berchtold (tenor)
Renatus Mészár (bass)
MDR Rundfunkchor Leipzig/Bart van Reyn
Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie/Frank Beermann
rec. 9 September 2013, Stadthalle, Chemnitz.
CAPRICCIO C5231 [59:53]

This release is quite a discovery, not only in the sense of the history of its score but in the nature of the music that unfolds before us. Bruno Maderna’s Requiem was considered lost for many years. Maderna fought as a partisan during WWII and was taken prisoner by the SS. About this experience the composer later said “at that moment it was the only possibility to write a requiem and then to die.” Subsequent hopes of a performance in the US never materialised, and the score ended up in the Library of Purchase College of New York. It was eventually premiered in the Teatro la Fenice in Venice in November 2009 – around 36 years after Maderna’s death.

Maderna saw this Requiem as a milestone in his compositional development, but those of us who know his music from the avant-garde Darmstadt school will be surprised to hear the work open with that most tonal of perfect intervals, an open fifth. The first sections are indeed quite romantic in style, and the booklet notes suggests that an intensive study of examples by Giuseppe Verdi and Hector Berlioz will have had a strong influence. Closer to the surface are the sounds of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and the harmonies of Hindemith. While certain passages and the sonorities of the often sparing instrumental accompaniment give rise to similarities there are however relatively few places that clearly refer to other music.

After the gentler Requiem and Kyrie eleison more dramatic effects and musical extremes are reserved for the massive Dies irae that makes up the bulk of Part One. After Maderna’s experiences this could hardly be anything other than a ‘War Requiem’, and the work is nothing short of a pacifist manifesto with an impact comparable to Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time. Part Two opens with hefty bell-like chords for the Domine Jesu, with the light and dark of female and male voices playing against each other, the Sanctus opening out into a massed crowd of angels. The Benedictus opens with an eloquent orchestral section, the words taken by the soprano soloist. There are some magical moments in the Agnus Dei which breaks out halfway into a lilting tune of disarming naivety – this is most certainly a work filled with surprises. The descending lines of the Lux aeterna embody a kind of eternal procession of grief shot through with defiance, while the final Libera me is by no means an upbeat conclusion, its intensity gradually diffusing into a silence shaped by that single trombone, the recurring beat of a drum, and a halo of lonely strings.

This live recording is pretty good, with a few distant noises from the audience but nothing too serious. Presentation for the release is also fine, though texts are given in Latin and German but not with an English translation. The performance is passionate and the solo voices tend to crowd out the orchestra here and there but in general the balance is effective in delivering the moods and wide contrasts in this remarkable piece. The soloists are all good enough though I wouldn’t point out anyone as uniquely outstanding. I’m sure on this showing that this is a work which, if not likely to enter core repertoire, has a fair chance of being recorded more than once now it has finally seen the light of day.

Dominy Clements

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