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A Great Requiem,
This review is from: Verdi: Requiem (Teatro Alla Scala Di Milano) [Blu-ray]  [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
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. Yes, this is the verbatim beginning of my comments on Gustavo Dudamel’s new Verdi Requiem – and I repeat it here, as I want to put my cards on the table for the following review of Daniel Barenboim’s almost simultaneously released recording. I will not even attempt to compare the two readings: they are vastly different in their respective conceptions, but equally fine.
The Requiem was recorded live in August 2012 at the Teatro alla Scala, an immense theatre, and the challenges for both sound engineers and film crew must have been severe. I respectfully disagree with some fellow-reviewers and find both the audio and the video for the most part very good, if not always outstanding. Not only are the Scala acoustics tamed and focused quite well, the video is relatively sharp, given the difficulty of recording placement and angle. The camera work, however, is not entirely to my satisfaction: too many long shots on the maestro – the soloists rightly get plenty of attention – and the very fine, huge Coro del Teatro alla Scala, too little focus on the orchestra musicians who play very well indeed. One should not forget that Verdi could be a brilliant orchestrator: the Requiem is ample proof of this. The repeated pans through the theatre are useless and annoying.
Barenboim has a stellar quartet of soloists with Anja Harteros, Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann and René Pape, and they give their all for his monumental reading of the score. Harteros, Kaufmann and Pape – the latter despite a few quirky pronunciation glitches – are thoroughly familiar with Verdi, Garanca seems somewhat in awe at times, but carries her part very well. What she may occasionally lack in sheer vocal power (at least on this particular evening), she amply makes up with musical beauty. From the first hushed notes of the Kyrie through the overwhelming cataclysm of the Dies Irae, a stupendous Mors stupebit, a highly expressive Liber scriptus – Garanca shining out – and Quid sum miser with an exquisite dialogue of Harteros and Kaufmann, the quartet perfect in Salva me and a wonderful Recordare – listen to the angelic duet of soprano and mezzo – to one of the finest tenor solos on record in the Ingemisco, you will be spellbound with this performance. Barenboim conducts his large forces with intense concentration, and even during those moments when he seemingly gives them free rein, there is no doubt that all is painstakingly rehearsed. Among the many high points there is a formidable Lacrymosa punctuated by percussion, a glittering tenor solo in the Hostias, the festive Sanctus and hushed Agnus Dei with both female soloists tender and moving… I could go on and on, but listen for yourself. This is Daniel Barenboim’s Requiem. And it is a great Requiem, here to stay with us for many years to come.