VERDI: Messa Da Requiem – Soloists/NDR Orch./Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – Archipel

by | Apr 23, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

VERDI: Messa Da Requiem – Stefania Woytowicz, soprano/ Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano/ Nicolai Gedda, tenor/ Boris Carmeli, bass/ WDR and NDR Rundfunkchors/ NDR Sinfonieorchester/ Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – Archipel ARPCD 0480, 76:21 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
This 1961 rendition of the Verdi Requiem from Hamburg, Germany features a truly outstanding vocal quartet: Stefania Woytowicz (1922-2005), soprano; Christa Ludwig (b. 1928), mezzo-soprano; Nicolai Gedda (b. 192), tenor; and Boris Carneli (1928-2009), bass, all under the capable leadership of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (1900-1973). Despite some compression in the sound, always unfortunate when we have the grandest of vocal concepts from the ever-operatic Verdi, the dramatic potency of the occasion remains, often quite histrionic and emotionally shattering.
The requiem was written (1873) during an almost totally fallow period of fifteen years between Aida and Othello, twenty years after his incredible trinity of Rigoletto, Trovatore and Traviata. The orchestration and length of the Verdi Requiem, however, make it a very close second to Berlioz’ work (with which Verdi was quite familiar). The Requiem divides into seven segments, and of these, the Dies Irae (including the Tuba Mirum through the Lacrymosa) comprises approximately half its total length. The orchestra is fairly standard for the time, the only significant differences being an extra pair of bassoons, which lend a darker tone throughout much of the music and the off-stage trumpets used for the Tuba Mirum. The Requiem begins and ends ppp with two closely-related themes, encompassing a multitude of dynamic markings and tempo changes (more typical of an opera than a mass). We hear several repetitions of the awesome Dies Irae section, which are marked fff, tutta forza and which are heavily punctuated by the bass drum, tightened according to the composer’s instructions. Impressive as these displays of orchestral and choral forces are, the reputation of the work rests principally on the sheer beauty and poignancy of the quieter passages.
Stefania Woytowicz did not leave a particularly large recorded legacy, but her presence in the opening Kyrie and in the course of the Rex tremendae sails into far reaches of outer space. Her glorious voice returns in Requiem aeternum don eis near the conclusion with stellar effect. Christa Ludwig proves her own resiliency in the extended duet with Woytowicz in the punishing tessitura of the Recordare. Boris Carmeli, too, often remains un-named among great operatic bassos, but his fervent rich hued tones resound deeply in the Tuba mirum, in the mournful Confutatis, and in the haunted Lux aeterna (this, with Ludwig and Gedda). Nicolai Gedda hardly requires any lengthy discourse: his vibrant, lyric tenor ennobles every note he touches. We are not disappointed by his ringing Ingemisco, and we may well recall that his vocal teacher, C.M. Oehmann, likewise discovered Jussi Bjoerling.
The sculpted melody of the Domine Jesu (Offertory) enjoys the four soli in concert and an exquisite cello line from Schmidt-Isserstedt’s hand-picked NDR Symphony. The melismatic vocal line soon sails into the reaches of the violin and soprano, then descends into the winds with basso Carmeli. Gedda invokes the Hostias with the same fervor we know the Berlioz Sanctus in his respective Requiem. The shimmering string line at the coda must be heard to appreciate the gradations of sound Schmidt-Isserstedt could educe from his NDR. For sheer choral virtuosity, the Sanctus has few equals, constructed as a fugue with double choir. The Libera Me proves a dramatic microcosm of much that has come before, including an extended parlando and coloratura part for soprano, followed by the shattering drums and descending choir for the abysmal Dies Irae. Another fugato ensues after a meditation on mortality, the NDR and WDR choruses’ incendiary harmony rich, sustaining Woytowicz’s high soprano. Soprano Woytowicz becomes a cantor at the last, intoning for spiritual peace on a grandly universal scale.
—Gary Lemco

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