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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
In memoriam Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Messa da Requiem (1874)
Dinara Alieva (soprano); Olesya Petrova (mezzo-soprano); Francesco Meli (tenor); Dmitri Belosselskiy (bass)
Bolshoi Theater Chorus; St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov
rec. live in concert, 19 December 2017, the Grand Hall of the St Petersburg Academic Philharmonia
DELOS DE3563 [49:52 + 40:28]

Having recovered from a Verdi Requiem overdose after previously reviewing some sixty recordings in my two surveys of October 2017 (29 stereo recordings) and June 2018 (31 mono recordings), I felt reasonably prepared to review this new release, billed as a memorial tribute to the late, great Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and performed a mere four weeks after his death aged only 56. I included Temirkanov’s live 2009 recording in that first survey and considered it good, if not first-class, but this latest live recording surpasses it by a considerable margin.

This is a big, grand, slow account whose long-breathed opening is reminiscent of the vintage Reiner recording. There is a bit of audience scuffling and coughing as they settle down but it’s not obtrusive and when the resonant Russian basses enter on “Te decet hymnus” I feel that familiar prickle of excitement and anticipation in the hair on the back of my neck, and as the choir swells on “Luceat eis” we feel that we are in safe hands. In his review of the Blu-ray version, my MWI colleague Dave Billinge characterises Temirkanov’s conducting as having “a leaden pulse”, finding the performance to be too solemn and lacking drama; I do not share his aversion to the tempi employed here and find that they give the soloists time to make their emotional points. However, Dave also praises the contributions of all the performers involved, so there we agree. Plenty of other conductors, including Reiner, Karajan, Abbado and Mehta have performed it with timings around, or just under, ninety minutes without sacrificing impetus but I appreciate that some will desire more forward momentum in what is primarily an operatic rather than liturgical work.

This work being, as I remarked, so operatic in character, there is always the question of the quality of the solo voices: my main motivation in wanting to hear and review this recording lay in my wish to hear rising star Dinara Alieva, having heard and admired her in her two solo recital and duet (with tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko) albums on the Naxos and Delos labels. Her crucial entry on “Sed signifer” is perfect, so it is all the more of a pity that she doesn’t quite nail the piano top B flat on the final “Requiem” in the “Libera me”; no doubt if this had been a studio or composite production that could and would have been patched. Otherwise her vibrant singing there is reminiscent of the young Leontyne Price in her prime: smoky, soaring and effulgent – and she certainly does ace the final top C. This recording is almost worth acquiring for her alone, but she is worthily partnered by Olesya Petrova, a singer new to me; she has large, rich, steady voice and even if there is a slight edge in her highest, loudest notes, her lower register at the close of “Liber scriptus” is impressive. She blends beautifully with the similarly dark-toned Alieva in the “Recordare” and takes her place among those mezzos who dominate the role rather than just sing it.

The male soloists are very good but not quite in that class. Both Meli and Belosselskiy have big voices but their vibratos tend to spread under pressure; fortunately, neither bleats and both have an attractive tone. Meli is hardly subtle, but as well as having considerable heft, he regularly employs falsetto which is artistically and aesthetically appropriate; it is not always of the purest or steadiest, as in the “Hostias” and Belosselskiy skimps the requisite trill there; Dinara shows him how to do it. Someone coughs through his “Mors stupebit” but he is suitably stern, hieratic and imposing.

The chorus is massively assured and energised, underpinned by real Russian basses – they are the last thing we hear, their bottom C resonating beneath the final “Libera me” - and the choir is in general is powerful, responsive, homogeneous and in tune. Temirkanov uses the same trick in the “Dies irae” that he employed in his earlier recording, borrowed from Colin Davis, whereby the chorus melodramatically whisper "Quando judex est venturus"; I think it works. Again, as in the earlier recording, I wish the tempo picked up more on “"Quam olim Abrahae" but that is a fleeting flaw.

The orchestra, too, is really committed; the “Tuba mirum” is stunning: weighty, majestic and overwhelming, with blazing trumpets playing flawlessly.

It is odd and inconvenient that CD1 has only two tracks where customarily the separate components of the “Dies irae” are given their own bands; at least CD2 has five. However, the booklet provides the Latin text and an English translation, notes, biographies, colour photographs and a tribute to Hvorostovsky. The sound is perfectly balanced.

This joins my select list of half a dozen favourite recordings.

Ralph Moore

Previous reviews: Bob Farr (DVD) ~ Dave Billinge (Blu-ray)


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