Jansons’ Verdi Requiem–A Simple Prayer

Review by: Robert Levine

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

This new recording of Verdi’s Requiem joins about 60 others in the catalog. There’s always a push-pull in this work–is it an opera in disguise, a work of devotion, or some odd combination? Well, Mariss Jansons, as fine a thinker as a conductor, has opted for the pious route, and as such there’s much to admire. The choruses are particularly reverential; even the wild brass in the normally rambunctious “Sanctus” is played down. I’m not sure I like such a mellow requiem. Giulini’s first recording, from 50 years ago, took the holy route, but it was positively zany compared to this one.

On the other hand, it’s nice to have everything so crystal clear: the recording is spotless and vivid. It’s a live recording, and the closely miked soloists have tiny pitch issues at times which we might miss in a “bigger” reading, but somehow this doesn’t matter much. Tenor Saimir Pirgu, with the best of intentions, does not have a voice that responds to his instincts–his pianissimos are too close to falsetto–but he has a fine sense of the Italianate line and sings with great feeling.

The recording plays up bass Orlin Anastassov’s weak low notes, but you can also hear the fine quality of his middle and upper range, and his Confutatis is exciting. Soprano Krassimira Stoyanova (in spite of pitch issues in mid voice here and there) soon settles into a gorgeous performance, with a less-than-chesty opening to the Libera me (as per the performance’s entire gestalt) but beautifully spun phrases. And mezzo Marina Prudenskaja is a real find–a handsome, creamy sound and fine musicianship.

The playing and singing are superb. My overall impression is that Jansons has gotten precisely what he wanted out of the Requiem: a prayer to be heard and answered, with little bombast. Tempos lean toward slow, as one might imagine under such circumstances. This set is a success on many levels; its understatement, however, puts me off. For contemporary readings, I’ll stay with Pappano on EMI. And then there are Toscanini’s–both prayerful and thrilling.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Pappano (EMI); Toscanini (RCA)

  • Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano); Marina Prudenskaja (mezzo-soprano); Saimir Pirgu (tenor); Orlin Anastassov (bass)
  • Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Mariss Jansons

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