There are, Heaven knows. many recordings of Verdi’s Manzoni Requiem. But many is not too many.
When I put this double CD to play on my player I resist the temptation to compare this superb version to others in my library. Most of the artists in all of the Verdi Requiems in my possession are long gone or retired, and this DELOS issue is freshly minted and sung by a fresh-voiced quartet of young singers at the top of their game.
It is, in short, a splendid addition to the library of any serious collector of recordings of vocal music.
Too bad that some of Verdi’s favorite singers did not live into the era of acoustical recordings. Had Austrian mezzo-soprano Margherita Waldman not retired in her early thirties, we can just imagine what Verdi’s favorite Amneris must have sounded like, even in an old one-sided 78 shellac of Libera me.
In the case of Teresa Stolz, the Bohemian-born Verdi go-to soprano who created both the Forza del destino Leonora and the first Italian Aida, and who first sang the Requiem, she died years before the advent of recorded sound.
Also a great loss.
All of the above goes by way of saying that we can only speculate as to what kind of sound the Master expected from his quartet when he finally decided to complete on his own what had originally been a group effort to honor Rossini. In 1874, Verdi finished writing his Messa da Requiem to honor the Italian patriot and poet Alessandro Manzoni. And a good thing he decided to go it alone because we all know that a dromedary can often simply be a horse designed by committee.
The first solo utterance in the Requiem is given to the mezzo-soprano: here, the superb Olesya Petrova, possessor of a fine dramatic sound capable of descending below the staff with a sensational chest voice, and of then rising to full-voiced phrases in her upper range, as in the Liber Scriptus. She later holds her own in all the quartets and in the touching Quid sum miser trio.
The Azerbaijani star Dinara Alieva is the soprano soloist. She excels throughout with the kind of rock-solid vocalism that relies on cutting power and lyric brilliance rather than heft. A Bolshoi favorite, her luscious sound is reminiscent of the great Italian Spinto sopranos of the past century, rather than that of some of her Slavic peers.
As regards the bass and the tenor parts in the Requiem it is easier to guess what Verdi wanted. The tenor soloist has almost everything riding on his Ingemisco. Francesco Meli brings a plangent Italianate sound to his assignment, with an easy top and plenty of squillo for the big moments. He can also pull back to a gorgeous mezza voce in the Offertorium.
I think Verdi would have been pleased with Meli and with the bass in this recording.
The Russian bass Dmitri Belosselsky is familiar to us from his recent appearances as Zaccaria in the MET Nabucco. Not a Russian profundo but more of a basso cantante, he excels in the Confutatis maledictus, with an outpouring of vocal fire and brimstone. Later his singing is bone chilling in his use of mezza voce in Mors stupevit
The quartet of Alieva, Petrova, Meli and Belosselsky is remarkable as an ensemble of equals at the service of the music. When piani and pianissimi are called for they deliver. Cut offs, diminuendi, and crescendi are executed by these four superb artists with precision and utter sensitivity, and with never a hint of vocal competitiveness.
The Requiem is first and foremost a choral-orchestral work and maestro Yuri Temirkanov crafts an expansive musical landscape commanding the marvelous Bolshoi Theatre Chorus and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and eliciting sterling work by the musical forces at his disposal.
The DELOS double CD (DE3563) was recorded live in concert at St. Petersburg Philharmonia on December 19, 2017. The production-engineering team of Elchin Muradov, Fedor Naumov, and the CD design of Oksana Morgunova and Alexander Kolganov, all under the aegis of Delos Executive Producer Carol Rosenberger delivers exemplary work in this worthy project.
The Requiem has been called a Sacred Opera because of its setting of a text that deals with matters of Faith and Life and Death – perfect for the genius of a man who grappled in one way or another with these very subjects in each and every one of his three dozen operas as well as in his personal life.
How appropriate and moving that this praise-worthy recording is dedicated to the memory of the great Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He too would have been proud of his colleagues and happy with the results.
Rafael de Acha