on 15 March 2014
I have always treasured Giulini’s 1964 reading of Verdi’s Manzoni Requiem (with his dream team of soloists: Schwarzkopf – Ludwig – Gedda -- Ghiaurov) and perhaps used it as a subconscious “blueprint” when appreciating other performances, either live or recorded. On DVD, my favorite has been Abbado’s deeply felt and searing 2001 recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker, still in very good sound and more than respectable video. Maazel’s more recent interpretation with the Symphonica Toscanini (2007, see my review) I found disappointing. However, I know that great and complex scores can be performed in many different – and equally convincing – ways. Gustavo Dudamel impressed me with a stunning Dvorak “New World” symphony (Birthday Concert for Pope Benedict, DG DVD, 2007) and his new Mahler Eight (DG DVD, 2012), both attesting to his growing stature as an eminent musician.
The Messa da Requiem was recorded live in the Hollywood Bowl in August 2013. Against all expectations, the audio is very good, hardly blemished by outside noises, perhaps a bit dry and bass-shy for the lack of enclosed hall acoustics, as Mr. John Manning points out in his perceptive review. The video is excellent, too. The LA Philharmonic musicians play exceedingly well and rise to the occasion, as does the splendidly rehearsed Los Angeles Master Chorale. The almost all-Italian quartet of soloists is quite impressive: tenor Vittorio Grigolo shines particularly in the Ingemisco and the Hostias, mezzo Michelle DeYoung and bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo carry the stage in the Lux aeterna and Libera me Domine, soprano Juliana DiGiacomo once more in the work’s final bars. Altogether one could not wish for better soloists with more pleasing voices, perfectly in tune with the orchestra and choir and with the conductor’s conception of the mass.
As to Maestro Dudamel’s conception, you should listen beforehand to the bonus interview, which is shot through with snippets from the rehearsals. Dudamel was thirty-two years old at the time of this Hollywood Bowl recording. In his remarks on the Missa, he stresses the operatic character of the work, its drama as well as its tender aspects. He conducts without baton, clearly trying to shape the human, choral and instrumental voices with his hands. Already the beginning sections (Requiem, Kyrie) set the tone for his “intimate” reading of the quiet sequences. Then, the Dies Irae explodes in high drama, the Sanctus is dazzling, festive and almost martial in the measured staccato passages, whereas the Agnus Dei is solemn, nearly humble. There is much operatic flavor in this performance, there are brilliant dramatic highpoints with plenty of fire, and, moreover, there is a pervasive aura of consolation that may be missing in other readings: a reassurance for the living that death can be regarded as peace and transition into eternal life. Dudamel does not obliterate the work’s undercurrent of irrevocable loss, pain, despair, and terror in the face of death. But he subdues or even transcends it through hope and – perhaps -- faith. This is a young man’s Requiem, with the occasional smile, the surprising sudden ray of sunshine, and it leaves you, after the final note, not devastated but transported into a sphere of quiet reflection. Warmly recommended as an alternative reading to the prevailing performance tradition.