Verdi: Messa Da Requiem
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In his magnificent Requiem, first heard in Milan in 1874, Verdi brought all his dramatic genius to a sacred text. The chorus and orchestra of the Paris Opera, under their music director Philippe Jordan, marked the composer's bicentenary in 2013 with two performances of the work. Joining them was an impressive quartet of soloists: Kristin Lewis, Violeta Urmana, Piotr Beczala and Ildar Abdrazakov.
'The result was a performance on an elevated level,' wrote ForumOpera. 'The audience rose to its feet to acknowledge an interpretation that sought less to wake the dead than to pay them tribute. That was precisely Verdi's intention when he originally decided to compose a Requiem to honor [the poet] Alessandro Manzoni ... Kristin Lewis' voice blossoms to the full in the scores of Verdi's maturity ... Violeta Urmana was even throughout her range, with a generous middle register and sure top notes ... Piotr Beczala's sculpted tone accommodated both nuance and restraint and ... Ildar Abdrazakov's singing was ... filled with humanity ... his tone noble, cut from royal cloth.'
This solid ensemble performance shows Jordan well in control of the Paris Opera forces. Chorus and orchestra are not just disciplined but vivid and sometimes eloquent in tone and manner. The conductor's taut, face-paced reading remains focused, not exaggerated, and attentive to detail...Phrasing is anchored to the words; accented notes are scrupulously observed. Flexible dynamics do just to the cacophonous of terrors of the final judgement, and to the soul's ardent but slender hopes for rescue. --David J. Baker, Opera News, June 2014
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Which in a rather roundabout way brings us to this new recording from Jordan. The conductor seems to want it all ways at once, never quite latching onto a coherent style or structure. The fact is, it's a very fast reading, making Jordan's recording one of the few to fit on a single disc. Indeed, at seventy-seven minutes it's probably the fastest Verdi Requiem I've ever heard. This may be great for listeners who would rather not get up and change a disc in mid performance, and it may have been great for the live audience who heard Jordan's playing it in concert during the recording, but for home listening it makes for a somewhat tiring, sometimes breathless affair.
In addition to Maestro Jordan's rather fast delivery is his tendency to play up, maybe even exaggerate, every dynamic contrast that comes his way. He can start at a whisper and the next moment knock you out of your seat. These quick tempos and wide dynamic fluctuations might make for an exciting performance, but it doesn't seem like a performance entirely in line with Verdi's goals.
In a booklet note Jordan says that performing the Requiem has enabled the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera "to demonstrate their understanding of, and feeling for, this overwhelming music." The key word here may be Jordan's belief that the music should be "overwhelming," and he wants to play it that way, making it more monumental than the triumphal march from Aida. Everything about the presentation seems a tad inflated, in the process making the music that much less dramatic, less spiritual, less operatic, and less inspiring than it could be otherwise.
On the other hand, there is no denying the impact of the phrasing, dynamic contrasts, and occasionally dizzying speeds. And there's no denying that the soloists, chorus, and orchestra aren't generally up to the challenge. Jordan's is an interpretation of variety, violent tensions, wild mood swings, but not a lot of contemplative soul searching except perhaps in the Lacrymosa for quartet and chorus and the Lux aeterna for soprano, tenor, and bass, which do come off pretty well.
Erato recorded the music live in concert on June 10-11, 2013. There is a very wide dynamic range involved, which I usually wouldn't complain about, except that in this case it tends to be a little distracting from the beauty and solemnity of the music. Besides, when combined with some fairly close live miking, the voices get somewhat harsh and bright in louder passages. It adds a degree of ear fatigue a listener probably doesn't need. Otherwise, the audience members remain quiet enough that they are seldom obtrusive. Although the stereo spread is broadly spaced across the sound stage, depth suffers a bit. So, the sound is impactful, forward, and a little flat; it's clear, to be sure, but not particularly natural or lifelike. Thankfully, the engineers have edited out the final applause.
John J. Puccio