> Opera and Oratorio
Harteros, Garanča; Kaufmann, Pape; Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Barenboim. Texts and translations. Decca B0018946-02 (2)
Decca's new recording of Verdi's Requiemis taken from two live performances, given on August 27 and 28, 2012, at the Teatro alla Scala, where Verdi himself conducted the second performance of the work in May of 1874. (Note: DVD and Blu-ray releases of this material are also available; however, based on the information provided on their packaging, these video versions present a somewhat different program, with material drawn exclusively from the August 27 performance.) All of the elements necessary for a successful performance of Verdi's large-scale masterpiece are to be found here — powerfully expressive choral singing, expert orchestral work, insightful conducting from Daniel Barenboim, and a superb vocal quartet.
Leading the team of soloists is Anja Harteros, who proves capable of sailing her radiant soprano over the vast orchestral and choral forces in climactic passages, yet able to spin out the finest thread of a pianissimo high B-flat in "Libera me." (She may not displace Leontyne Price as the most stunning of soprano soloists in this work, but then again, who could?) Mezzo-soprano Elina Garanča's velvety tones and sensitive phrasing are exemplary, and she and Harteros render the "Agnus Dei" soprano–mezzo duet with perfect synchronization of pitch, style and articulation. Bass René Pape sings securely — if a bit effortfully at times — and produces a rich, robust sound. (The exception to this is Pape's whispered uttering of the word "mors" (death) in the "Mors stupebit" — a deliciously dramatic moment.) Jonas Kaufmann employs his sinewy, ringing tenor to brilliant effect. In comparison with the tenor soloists on previous Verdi Requiems from Decca — a late-career Jussi Björling and a young Luciano Pavarotti — Kaufmann lacks the seamlessly flowing legato and purity of vowels displayed by Pavarotti but sings with a heroic quality akin to Björling's — an approach supported and enhanced by Kaufmann's baritonal vocal color.
The Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala give a dynamic, first-rate reading of Verdi's score. It is a pleasure to hear such full-bodied, impassioned and well-tuned singing from the chorus — particularly as its members prove just as adept at maintaining energized vocalism during quiet and reflective passages as they are when blowing the roof off the hall in "Dies irae." The orchestra plays superbly under Barenboim's baton, and though there are a few moments at which the ensemble lacks unity, these instances are rare and are to be expected in a live setting.
Decca's sound is clear and extremely vivid — particularly for a live recording — with ambient noise remarkably absent. However, one is aware of extensive mixing taking place behind the scenes to expose such a wide range of up-close orchestral detail, which ultimately results in an inaccurate sonic image of the concert stage. The soloists also sound as if they were singing in their own separate rooms, isolated from the orchestra and — more critically — from each other; a truly blended sound never develops among them. The classic recordings referenced above were balanced in a much more realistic and satisfying manner, though without the obvious benefits of digital sound.
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.