Verdi: Requiem (CD review)

Angela Gheorghiu, Daniela Barcellona, Roberto Alagna, and Julian Konstantinov, soloists; Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Warner Classics 5571682 (2-disc set).

This recording, originally released by EMI and now available from Warner Classics, was, I believe, Abbado's third rendering of Verdi's Requiem Mass on disc, and I suppose the third time's the charm. His previous two efforts were on DG and with different orchestras, but as memory serves me they are very much of a kind.

Abbado appears to see the work as just what it is, a Celebration Mass for the dead, and as such he fills it not only with the powerful Wrath of God but with gentle and comforting words of mercy and forgiveness, too. It is in these quieter, calmer moments of repose that I found Abbado's vision especially moving, a sweeter, slower-paced, more contemplative reading than those of some of his rivals, yet just as gripping. You might say he follows the advice of many critics by not making the piece sound too much like a large-scale grand opera.

Claudio Abbado
There is no questioning the glory and grandeur of the Berlin Philharmonic or the choirs involved, who do complete justice to the glory and grandeur of Verdi's score. Nor do Abbado's soloists let us down: Angela Gheorghiu, Daniela Barcellona, Roberto Alagna, and Julian Konstantinov sing well, although here the listener may have his or her own favorites and find this quartet a tad underpowered.

Of course, there are still a couple of good alternative accounts to contend with. One is Carlo Maria Giulini's classic version with the Philharmonia (EMI), imbued as it is with just the kind of operatic overtones that Verdi didn't particularly want conductors to impose on the work. Personally, I like Giulini's rendition for that very reason. Another is John Eliot Gardiner's more highly charged realization with his period-instrument band, the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, on Philips. This latter interpretation may bring with it a tad too much dynamic power and intensity, but it also remains among my favorites.

Back to Abbado's account: the sonics, recorded live over two nights in January 2001, with the maestro's imposing Berlin forces, sound at once clean and clear, yet sometimes at the expense of being almost too fierce in the treble. The soloists also seem a bit too forward at times, and deepest bass can occasionally seem lacking. Nevertheless, as I've already said, the singers are splendid, the orchestra is as glorious as ever, and the lucidity of the sound is generally impressive, so no one should really fear buying the set on aural grounds just because it's live. What's more, the audience is relatively silent throughout the proceedings, so there is another worry assuaged

 I quite enjoyed this release.


To listen to a couple of brief excerpts from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa