The Times, September 13, 2013
Geoff Brown
Daniel Barenboim: Verdi Requiem
Even the pauses tremble in Daniel Barenboim’s thrilling account of Verdi
La Scala in Milan housed the second performance of Verdi’s Requiem in 1874, and was the venue for this superb recording

Verdi’s Requiem, recorded last summer from the opera stage of La Scala, Milan? What a perfect venue for such a sumptuously dramatic piece. It was La Scala that housed its second performance in May 1874, in the home city of Alessandro Manzoni, the poet,
novelist and national hero, whose memory the Requiem commemorates. And didn’t the conductor Hans von Bülow label it at birth “an opera in church costume”? The comment was meant as a criticism, but now it seems more like an honourable truth. Verdi had composed some 25 operas by the time he started his work; what was he supposed to do, throw all his knowledge of musical drama into the River Po?

The opera link is particularly strong with the personnel on parade here. Our conductor is Daniel Barenboim, king of the Proms’ recent Ring cycle, who adds numerous touches of melodrama to the score, not always in the best of taste. The magnificent full-throated chorus project in a manner liable to rip off the La Scala roof. And the soloists too trail opera glory. Jonas Kaufmann, no less, is the ringing tenor; Anja Harteros’s soprano wrenches the heart; mezzo Elina Garanca supplies warmth and cream, while René Pape’s bass stands firm, a bulwark against any storm. I should also mention the La Scala orchestra’s bass drum player. None of the dead could possibly stay slumbering after those mighty thwacks in the Dies Irae.

All good, then? More or less. In the Offertorio , Kaufmann, surprisingly, suffers one intonation mishap, and generally seems rather less at home than the others, though that never stops him fierily trumpeting with every note, and tender beauties are still
floated on high. Harteros reaches her own peak in the aching loveliness of the final “Requiem aeternam”, her voice the rapturous embodiment of the Requiem text’s “perpetual light”, while Garanca’s mezzo shines throughout with a glow probably visible from outer space.

Barenboim, meanwhile, does everything to encourage bold attack from players and singers; even his pauses tremble. All told, it’s a thrilling account.

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