Bay Area Reporter, 09/05/2013
by Tim Pfaff
Life-and-death Requiem
It will be something if the Verdi Year produces a more important recording than Decca's new Requiem, with Daniel Barenboim leading the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala (Decca), where the piece had its deuxieme. It's a thrilling, musically masterful performance of the definitive David Rosen edition of the score for Ricordi. But the best word to describe it is a troubled one: authentic. It's not just that these musicians are performing the work that most closely accords to Verdi's intentions; it's that they do it with full artistic and emotional integrity.

Maybe it's having spent months with recordings of The Rite of Spring dating from the premiere to the centenary. What becomes inescapable is the degree to which The Rite increasingly becomes a sound spectacular for a virtuoso orchestra. Sonically glamorous performances don't harm the piece in any essential way, but the spectacular can replace, or at least displace, the elemental nature of the work.

So with the Verdi Requiem. Heightened attention to its spectacular components – and they are legion – has, however ironically, brought the piece back to Hans von Buelow's crude but lingering critique of the piece (before he heard it; he quickly recanted): that it is an opera disguised as a mass for the dead. The words – as always an obsession for Verdi – are, with Barenboim, in the safest of hands.

The Dies Irae doesn't just blaze; it burns with the fires of hell, and greater than the gooseflesh produced by the orchestra and chorus in full cry is the lick of that flame. Recorded live a year ago at La Scala (where Barenboim is music director, and had the audacity to open the Verdi Year opera season with birthday concelebrant Wagner's Lohengrin), it is "live" in every sense.

The vocal soloists are the day's best, working in unalloyed ensemble. First out of the box with the Kyrie, Jonas Kaufmann inflects the music with the wealth of detail you expect of him yet without a hint of the fussiness a voice of his caliber would allow. The Ingemisco is glorious, but it's the hushed Hostias, and his quieter contributions to the ensemble (Quid sum miser) that really score. Elina Garanca is his match in the middle voices, singing the part in rich ribbons of supremely disciplined sound that yearns ever upward. Her Lacrimosa can hold its own with anyone's.

Anja Harteros and Rene Pape, already so impressive in their interpretation of the piece with Antonio Pappano, both outpace their earlier performances. Pape becomes ever the more subtle singer and is as impressive at pianissimo as singing full out. Harteros, who has become something of a regular partner of Kaufmann in both Verdi and Wagner, now sings with even greater power, range, security, beauty, and emotional impact. The long arcs of sound she unfurls mark a Verdian at full maturity, and she delivers the Libera Me as if everything prior has led up to it, as indeed it has.

But it's the wisdom of Barenboim's pacing and his unfailing sense of proportion in all things that ground this work in its fundamental humanity and make it profound. Decca is also releasing the Requiem in DVD and BluRay, and the video snippets available to the press underscore the deep humanity of this urgent, primal Verdi Requiem.

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