Giuseppe Verdi Messa da Requiem Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Without a doubt, this will prove to be a seminal recording.

Charlotte Gardner 2009

Verdi’s Messa da Requiem must be one of the greatest classical works of all time, so a new recording, conducted by such an artist as Antonio Pappano, was always going to attract attention. This deserves attention, too; it’s a gargantuan, extraordinary performance, given by an extraordinary musical cast.

Verdi wrote his requiem in response to the deaths of two of Italy’s greatest artistic figures, the composer Gioacchino Rossini and the nationalist poet Alessandro Manzoni. In 1868, Verdi proposed that Italy’s leading composers collaborate to produce a requiem in honour of Rossini. He wrote a “Libera Me”, but the rest of the work never materialised. Five years later, Manzoni died. This time Verdi followed the adage that, if you want a job done properly, you should do it yourself, and worked his earlier “Libera Me” into a full-scale requiem. The work, premiered in 1874, is of such dramatic force, encompassing every extreme of emotion, that the effect is almost overpowering. Even so, it isn’t so much Verdi the angst-ridden Catholic (he was in fact a spiritual agnostic), as Verdi the opera composer, and at the time he was criticised for essentially writing an opera in disguise.

Antonio Pappano, with his Italian heritage and operatic career, quite obviously has this music coursing through his veins. Recorded in concert, it catapults the listener into the concert hall with its energetic force and surging rhythms. The dramatic contrasts are magnificently worked, from the tender, subdued opening “Requiem” movement, to a “Dies Irae” of such fiery rage that it knocks (and scares) ones metaphorical socks off. The textural and dynamic contrasts in the “Rex Tremedae” are stirringly delivered, building to a climax that makes you hair stand on end. Verdi’s writing demands soloists with power across their whole vocal range, and all four deliver on this front making it impossible to single out individuals for praise. They’ve also been perfectly matched with each other, blending beautifully as a quartet. The choral singing is equally as full-blooded, well blended, and brilliantly articulated.

What more can one say? Without a doubt, this will prove to be a seminal recording.

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