Muti and company tackle the work confidently, and with vim to spare.
Daniel Ross 2010-11-30
Verdi’s Requiem is a work of undeniably epic proportions, but more often than not (and thanks to the ubiquity of the Dies Irae in television and film) the public hear only snippets of it. Consequently, audiences can see it as something of a marathon rather than the evolving, narrative-heavy work that it is. It is the job of the orchestra as much as the conductor and singers to ensure that no-one nods off inside half an hour, so Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony and Chorus have a huge of gallery of previous recordings to live up to if they’re to succeed.
First things first, though: the work’s most famous moment. Such is the notoriety of the Dies Irae from early on in the Requiem that recordings of it tend to compete in ferocity and aggression alone. True enough, it is supposed to be a musical evocation of the world’s destruction, but to simply hammer through it is to miss the intricacies. The CSO under Muti’s baton make an initially brash fist of it, but there is sensitivity to follow that makes it worthwhile. It’s perhaps not so demented and bullish as, say, 2009’s Antonio Pappano recording of the movement, but that’s to its credit. When the storm passes and we are left with the menacing whispers of the chorus it suddenly seems worth the heaviness – the solo voices are blended perfectly in timbre and volume.
To contrast the worminess of the end of the Dies Irae, the following Tuba Mirum is splendidly full-blooded, even masculine, and exactly what’s needed. As the second half of the work arrives, the textural colours increase in variety and the differing moods jump around even more skittishly. The Offertorio section has some excellently judged vocal exchanges, reverberant and most effective when building towards a zenith (there are many, thankfully). Restrained, potent and almost trance-inducing at times, it’s as far away from the Dies Irae as we could possibly be.
Of course, the Dies Irae returns for its death rattle before the conclusion, and it’s possibly even more wonderfully damned and destructive than the first iteration. Muti and company do plenty with the rich material here, and succeed in making the Requiem a thoroughly entertaining work as well as a deeply artistic one. Many shades make for a varied performance, one that tackles the work confidently and with vim to spare.