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Giuseppe Verdi:  Missa da Requiem
29 Aug 2006

VERDI: Missa da Requiem

Verdi responded to the death of Rossini in 1868 by planning a collaborative Requiem Mass, drawing on the contributions of thirteen “distinguished” composers.

Giuseppe Verdi: Missa da Requiem

Melba Ramos, soprano; Gabriele May, mezzo-soprano; Michael Ende, tenor; Martin Blasius, bass. Vocapella; Aachen Symphony Orchestra; Marcus Bosch, conductor

Coviello Classics COV30512 [SACD]

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He, himself, would have the last word with the setting of “Libera me.” Although the Rossini Requiem was completed, it was not brought to performance, and a few years later, Verdi’s “Libera me” finds a new home in his own Requiem of 1874, a work honoring the death of the writer, Alessandro Manzoni, best known for his novel, I promessi sposi.

The nature of Verdi’s Requiem is, unsurprisingly, operatic. And though this may complicate its reception in ecclesiastical contexts, it is piously operatic; the innate drama of life’s passing is engaged in theatrical terms, but the theatre would be one where the flicker of votive candles and the sweet waft of incense linger in the mind, a stage on which one can see from time to time the dance of colored light from distant stained glass. The Viennese critic, Eduard Hanslick, wrote that “the study of old Roman church music shines through [the Requiem], but only as a glimmer, not as a model.” The glimmer is significant however, for there are, to be sure, certain things that set the work apart from the operas, especially the chant-like falsobordone recitations in “Libera me,” the quantity of choruses, and more particularly, their contrapuntal proclivities, proclivities that were in tune with Verdi’s contemporary views on conservatory education.

This present recording by Marcus Bosch offers an interesting mix of attributes. At the top of the list would be the brilliant singing of mezzo, Gabriele May. May harnesses her rich vibrancy to a mature and commanding sense of line. Her sound captivates, both with its beauty of tone and its flair. And in these qualities, soprano Melba Ramos can also share in large measure. Ramos also renders the beautiful octave leap in the final “Libera me” with memorable grace, ease, and control, a well-known moment transformed into something unusually fine. The bass soloist, Martin Blasius, fares less well. His thick sound seems “just big,” and his execution seems awkwardly to be of the lumbering variety. Tenor Michael Ende bridges the gap with some strong moments, but rarely rising to memorability.

The chorus, “Vocapella,” is unusually well blended and clear of tone, with carefully formed articulation. Opera choruses, acceding to the demands of the stage for power and volume, will often forgo these qualities for solistically strong singing, en masse. Thus, the chance to hear Verdi’s choruses here in a more decidedly “choral” rendition is welcome—especially in the richly contrapuntal sections—though admittedly, to some ears, a bit more Italianate warmth would be welcome, too.

There is much to admire in the orchestral playing, especially the expressive solo wind passages and the very satisfying, organ-like brass plenum. The acoustic, however is dry, and in some sections the ambience seems to constrain rather than enhance.

This recording then is not problem free, but at the same time gratifying in a number of ways. The ability to hear the details of Verdi’s writing with remarkable clarity is striking and welcome, and the beautiful singing of Melba Ramos and Gabriele May will reward repeated hearings.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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