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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 15 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 33
A Requiem for the ages?
Arts & Entertainment
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A Requiem for the ages?

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

VERDI'S REQUIEM
DECCA BLU-RAY
TEATRO ALLA SCALA


When I encounter a new performance of a favorite work, especially one I hold as dear as Verdi's Requiem, my hopes are perhaps unrealistic from the get-go. The challenges and opportunities for glory provided by such a work tend to separate the merely competent from the fabulous with cruel clarity. Here is a work in which every element throbs with passionate possibilities. Every contributor, from the conductor to the recording engineers, is tested. There are so many excellent recordings of this Requiem that a new one must be truly exciting even to be listed as in the same league.

Does this new Blu-ray disc belong up there with the best? In general, I think the answer is yes, with some significant weaknesses. The main reason it succeeds is conductor Daniel Barenboim. He provides every bit of serious passion and musicianship that one could wish for. Every ounce of drama gets its due, giving the scope of the music supreme effect without ever marring the overall shape of the whole work. The engineers capture most of the power very well, even if the sound falls just short of today's very best. The orchestra and chorus of Teatro Alla Scala are generally up to the task and are obviously totally at home in Verdi's idiom.

The only weaknesses are in the quartet of soloists. On paper this list looks about as good as one could hope for today. Soprano Anja Harteros, mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca, tenor Jonas Kaufmann, and bass René Pape would seem to make a powerful team, at least two or three of them as renown in Wagner as well as lighter roles.

Certainly Jonas Kaufmann does not disappoint, raising goose bumps both with his ringing tops and beautiful phrasing, even though his is not the Italianate sound some might prefer. Anja Harteros sings beautifully but lacks, especially in her 'Libera me,' dramatic force. Elina Garanca is even more luscious vocally but lacks, to my taste, effective chest voice to give power to her lower phrases.

The most serious weakness comes from bass René Pape. His voice seems to have lost the weight, richness and power I remember from earlier performances, both live (a Chicago Wotan) and recorded. As in his disappointing recent Gurnemanz in the Met Opera Parsifal, his sound is disturbingly lightweight. In this Requiem I want the dark warmth of a Cesare Siepi or the god-like power of a young Nicolai Ghiaurov.

Indeed, each of the soloists have been bettered by the recordings of a Schwarzkopf, Price, Bjoerling, or Cossotto among others. But, overall, this is a pretty thrilling live performance, well-captured in nearly the best modern technology. (Of video performances, none can come close to the ancient, but surprisingly well recorded, von Karajan DVD with a very young quartet of Price, Cossotto, Pavarotti, and Ghiaurov, all in their supreme prime. The recent, well-conducted video with Gustavo Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl is not so well recorded and suffers from a very uneven quartet, with only young soprano Juliana DiGiacomo providing vocal and artistic thrills.) If you want the full power of big orchestra, big chorus, adequate soloists, and all the power of that bass drum in the 'Dies irae' and 'Tuba mirum,' you couldn't do better today than this Decca Blu-ray disc from La Scala.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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