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A less bombastic, more personal Requiem with incomparable singing
on 24 September 2013
Among other Requiems, Verdi's composition has always seemed like a sort of noisemaker. Interpretations have tended to display the work's extrovert nature, sometimes to the point of vulgarity. Daniel Barenboim's previous recording of this work, with the Chicago Symphony, was a true exemplar of this tradition, with blaring brass and definite extrovert nature.
From the first bars of this new La Scala disc, we hear a big difference. There's actually tenderness to Barenboim's phrasing, which builds with natural emotion that is quite moving. We notice how fresh and clear the choir sounds, caught in very good sound. Things get even better when the soloists enter. Jonas Kaufmann is full of passion and commitment that should make a casual listener stop and take note. He goes on to deliver an Ingemisco that is heartbreaking and virtually beyond compare. The rest of the soloists, Anja Harteros, Elina Garanca, and Rene Pape, are also top of the line. Listening to the quartet is the kind of vocal experience that is rare these days. I can't over-stress the conviction and sincerity each singer displays, though it's clear that Kaufmann represents the very height.
Moving through the work, we realize just how many layers of varied emotion are waiting to be uncovered. By removing the usual hysterical style, we no longer feel exhausted by over an hour of choral frenzy. Instead we witness just how much beauty and grief are in the work. I feel we are actually listening to a requiem, which is a true compliment. That's not to say that the excitement has been drained. It's simply that instead of making impact through volume and power, Barenboim makes his point by moving with a feeling of near-spontaneity that deftly maneuvers through the tosses and turns with hushed expectation. If anything, the experience is more intense, actually. There's none of the self-consciousness or gaudy phrasing that can afflict Barenboim.
In all, here is a recording that combines the height of vocal powers with conducting that makes the score sound fresh and altogether new. It's hard to countenance higher praise.