I adore Verdi's Messa Da Requiem, the music is simply magnificent throughout either giving me chills, hope and even tears. While I don't have a favourite movement, as iconic as the Dies Irae is and as rousing as the Sanctus is, it is the Libera Me and the Confutatis that I find myself listening to most.
This is a simply wonderful performance of one of the most awe-inspiring choral works ever to me. In terms of DVD performances, the 1967 performance with Karajan, Price, Cossotto, Pavarotti and Ghiaurov(other than the camera work he and his Confutatis are the stars of that performance) is my absolute favourite.
I don't think this one from 2001 is quite as good, but it is for me better than the 1970 performance with Bernstein conducting. There is nothing wrong with Bernstein, or with Arroyo, Veasey or Domingo, I just found Raimondi(who I admire) underwhelming, with some forced tone consequently making him go sharp and it overall lacked the dark, thunderous quality needed for the Mors Stupebit and the contrasting moods of the Confutatis.
Getting back to this performance, the venue is welcoming and the camera work is clever and shows intimacy. I have come across people who liken the soloists' presence as lots of grimacing. I personally disagree. I found every single one of them involved, and this is including Alagna mostly. Okay, it was not a nice sight in all honesty to see Konstantinov sweating heavily every now and then particularly after the first five minutes. Performers do perspire, but my point is it didn't need to be so obvious.
I cannot fault the sound though, which is amazing throughout, technically I'd say it was the best asset of the DVD. The climaxes are thrilling and in their element, and the softer moments have the poignancy, thoughtfulness and pathos they should. Nor could I musically. The sound coming from the orchestra is incredibly powerful, not just in the Dies Irae but especially in the closing passages, which contains some of the more moving moments of this performance.
The chorus are simply superb, the balance is faultless and the diction is crystal clear. Despite looking frail and gaunt, Claudio Abbado's conducting is as alert and as controlled as it ever was, with the emotional commitment etched all over his face. He conducts the introspective and softer parts wonderfully, so they are suitably moving, but two moments stood out. One was the Tuba Mirum, I think out of Karajan, Bernstein and Abbado, Abbado's interpretation of it is the most thrilling. The other was the 20-seconds-or-so silence he held before the audience applauded, very beautifully done and moving.
Soloistically it is superb. Roberto Alagna is not as good as I have known him to be. The voice is still ringing and wonderful if lacking the smoothness it did earlier in his career. His ensemble work I had no problem with either. He does look a little ill at ease at times, and while Abbado and the orchestra adjust quickly before any more damage was done, the Ingemisco was rushed.
Angela Gheorghiu though fares much better. Her dark, husky soprano voice is ideal, yet there is some much-needed creaminess as well. As well as looking beautiful and commanding, she sings brilliantly, especially in the Libera Me and the closing pages, which also have dramatic intensity.
Julian Konstantinov, apart from the sweating, excels. Vocally it is rich and not too throaty, and he isn't a piece of wood strictly speaking either. Mors Stupebit has the darkness and the thunderous quality it should do, but just like Ghiaurov(my personal favourite of all the bass soloists, though Martti Talvela on recording brings a darker and more basso profundo edge perhaps) the winner is the Confutatis. The start is intense and authoritative, but the softer thoughtful moments are intelligently performed.
The most consistent is Daniela Barcellona. I have seen this mezzo quite a few times before, and she always has impressed, particularly as Adalgisa. The voice is rich albeit also beautiful with a nuanced higher register and a firm lower register, and dramatically she is riveting with no overdone facial expressions or what not. Agnus Dei(in which Barcellona and Gheorghiu make a commendable effort in blending well with each other) is so angelic and beautiful, as it should be.
Overall, a simply wonderful performance. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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