Verdi’s is one of two requiems in the repertory which stand out for their astonishing dramatic power and originality, and which incidentally make excellent material for surround sound reproduction (the other is the Berlioz). The operatic theatricality of the Verdi work allows the four soloists full reign dramatically. This superb performance was recorded during a live concert just one year ago in Vienna’s Musikverein, and benefits from a new edition of the work by David Rosen, which for the first time uses the composer’s own indications of dynamics, scoring and instrumentation.
The dramatic quality that the work is best at communicating is fear – as in the Dies Irae (Last Judgement) sections. The multi-tympanis and big orchestral exclamations aid in this. As per Verdi’s instructions, some of the sections are sung at a reduced volume compared to previous interpretations, those creating even more of an impact when all hell breaks loose. I couldn’t help doing some frequent A/B comparisons between this version and the previous hi-res Requiem – on a Philips DVD-A conducted by Valery Gergiev. That one features better known singers – Fleming and Bocelli among them – and with the longer capacity of DVD-As is containing entirely on a single disc. It also is a more dramatic interpretation, with the fear factor upgraded in the Last Judgement sections, and it comes with a fascinating video about the recording of the work.
However more subdued the Harnoncourt recording may be (something in common with his recent Messiah recording), it is not boring or overly subtle. It points up the religious aspects of the work more than the drama, and is just as thrillingly presented in surround as the DVD-A option. If you have a universal player I would go for the Gergiev but the Harnoncourt on SACD is no slouch. There is also a stereo SACD reissue of the Eugene Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra performance available, but the sonics are a bit dated in comparison to these two more recent offerings.
– John Sunier