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Pappano's Verdi Requiem

available at Amazon
Verdi, Messa Da Requiem, A. Harteros, S. Ganassi, R. Villazón, R. Pape, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, A. Pappano

(released on October 6, 2009)
EMI 6 98936 2 | 84'10"
Giuseppe Verdi's bombastic but intensely pious setting of the Latin Requiem Mass was the composer's tribute for the first anniversary of the death of the writer Alessandro Manzoni, the author of Italy's most famous novel, I Promessi Sposi. It is now so popular with audiences that it is performed in Washington regularly by one big chorus or another, pretty much at least once a year (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and twice in 2009 -- and that's surely having missed a couple). There is certainly no shortage of fine recordings, either -- for years I listened to an LP of the fabulous recording with Jussi Björling and Leontyne Price (now on CD for a steal). Of recent recordings, Harnoncourt is the most to my liking, because it is the farthest from the often overblown, operatic performance most conductors favor, like Gustavo Dudamel, who is either magnificently theatrical or The Dud, depending on whom you read.

Antonio Pappano heads up the fiery orchestra and chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in this new recording. It is a fine version, marked with some of the conductor's individual touches, like having the chorus pronounce the words "Quantus tremor est futurus" (in the Dies irae) almost in a terrified whisper, with most of the pitch drained out in favor of dry consonants (Verdi marked this entrance only ppp sotto voce). The first track is introduced by about thirty seconds of silence, perhaps an attempt to create a reverent acoustic feeling -- after only a few listenings, it became annoying. It is an intensely exciting performance, with a lot of orchestral fire backing up a good -- if not superlative -- vocal quartet.

The best of the four is the striking soprano Anja Harteros, who on her current vocal track will likely produce a stunning performance in this work later in life, heard here as an extremely potent kernel. Rolando Villazón does not implode vocally, which given his recent troubled history is an achievement (the recording was made in Rome this past January). René Pape is his usual reliable self, a sturdy bass that sounds always full but sometimes, oddly, with a leathery confidence that can get a little boring. In short, a good recording but not one that leaps to the top of an already crowded field.

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