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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem [94.14]
Dinara Alieva (soprano)
Olesya Petrova (mezzo-soprano)
Francesco Meli (tenor)
Dmitry Belosselskiy (bass)
Bolshoi Theatre Chorus
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
rec. St Petersburg Philharmonia, 19 December 2017
Sound Format PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9; Region 0: No Subtitles
Reviewed in Surround
DELOS Blu-ray DV7013 [94.14]

This performance was in memory of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Russian baritone who had died just four weeks earlier. The stage bore a large picture of him surrounded by flowers and, perhaps because of the occasion, the presentation of flowers to the performers seems unusually prolific. The general air of solemnity might have helped restrain performers and audience because no one seems very excited by what they are doing.

I last reviewed a Temirkanov Verdi Requiem on video in 2011. Since this performance is, unsurprisingly, similar in length and approach perhaps I may be forgiven for repeating some of my earlier comments. I said then that, "The soloists are all very satisfactory but the performance, whilst precise, is not urgent and indeed seems a bit slow. It comes in at 7 minutes longer than my favoured video Requiem, that by Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic on EMI DVD. In Temirkanov's favour, it does warm up near the end of the Libera Me but by then it is of course, in several respects, too late. I would class it as a decent run-of-the-mill performance which was probably very satisfying to attend but with insufficient star quality to compete in a crowded market." In most respects I feel the same about this new recording. One of the three soloists, the tenor Francesco Meli, is the same in both old and new performances. I do feel these four singers sound as committed and as forceful as they can be under the leaden pulse of Temirkanov's baton. Dinara Alieva really lives the desperate pleas of the Libera me and the quality of singing from her and her colleagues is most impressive. The chorus make a rich and colourful sound and the world famous orchestra are as good as one would expect from them in their home venue.

There are a huge number of recordings of this work in all formats. The variations to be found in length alone says something about where this one stands. I could not find one noticeably longer but amongst the most famous renderings, Giulini, Toscanini, Fricsay, Solti, Karajan, Abbado, all are up to 10 or even 15 minutes shorter. That is a gigantic difference in tempo alone. All of these performances have a sense of urgency, if not desperation, which makes Verdi's operatic setting intensely dramatic. The composer was not a particularly religious man and there is little reason to suppose he had solemnity or even religiosity in mind for this work. He, as usual, sets the words for dramatic effect. This, I am sad to say, does not come through here.

I have some issues with the recording. Why do we only have a now-outdated Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack along with straight PCM for the stereo? Was it a wise production decision to have no subtitles for the Latin text? It is printed in full in the booklet but surely a viewer is going to be looking at the screen, not the booklet. On the plus side, the sound is OK but scarcely reflects the spaciousness of the impressive, and impressively named, Grand Hall of the D.D.Shostakovich St Petersburg Academic Philharmonia. The video is clean and the camerawork acceptably unobtrusive. At least we are free of the dreadful BBC Proms habit of zooming all over the place as if the cameraman is a performer rather than a passive observer. The audience is mostly quiet, though some appear inattentive.

I asked, rhetorically, in 2011 "Will Abbado's performance ever reach high-definition Blu-ray"? It still hasn't. Meanwhile I would hope that Pappano's recent Royal Opera House performance might make it to video.

Dave Billinge

Previous review (DVD): Robert Farr


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