Messa da Requiem
Anja Harteros (soprano), Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano), Rolando Villazón (tenor) & René Pape (bass)

Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Antonio Pappano

Recorded 8-13 January 2009 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
CD No: EMI 6 98936 2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 84 minutes
Reviewed: October 2009
Verdi's Requiem There has been a spate of major recordings of Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem” recently, including those conducted by Semyon Bychkov and Colin Davis. Now comes Antonio Pappano’s magnificent new release with his Santa Cecilia forces.
Pappano’s version is taken from concerts in Rome’s new auditorium, the Parco della Musica, and there is a depth and energy to the sound that easily accommodates the extremes of volume Verdi calls for, and the levels seem consistent – for example, the same setting for a powerfully loud ‘Tuba mirum’ yields an opening ‘Requiem aeternam’ that is, correctly, just about audible.
One of the most satisfying aspects of Verdi’s “Requiem” is the ambivalent role of the four soloists – sometimes so subjective and sharply personalised that they could be characters from an opera – the tenor’s ‘Ingemisco’, for example, or the soprano in the whole of the ‘Libera me’; then at other times, remote, almost meditative, as in the unaccompanied passages and the spare, utterly original ‘Agnus Dei’.
Pappano’s soprano, mezzo and bass – Anja Harteros, Sonia Ganassi and René Pape – move easily and securely between these extremes. The tenor, Rolando Villazón, doesn’t quite play it the same way – he is noticeably more emotional and Italianate. There are hints of his approach in the ‘Quid sum miser’, which blossoms, replete with sobs, in the ‘Ingemisco’. By contrast, the ‘Hostias et preces’ is more reined-in and serene. Once you get use to his heart-on-sleeve contrast, the result is thrilling.
Pape is superb, his voice both weighty and nimble, and he takes immense care with Verdi’s long melodic lines, and you are always aware of his fastidious, subtle musicality. Sonia Ganassi is the impressive lynchpin in the steadily unfolding ‘Dies irae’ sequence, and is suitably and magnificently Sybil-like in the ‘Liber scriptus’. Some might find Anja Harteros’s voice not Wagnerian enough, but her lightness of touch fits in well with the other soloists, and all the sublime soprano moments – the silvery, floated lines, a miraculous top B flat in the ‘Libera me’ – have an effortless, other-worldly beauty; and the scale of her voice suit’s the sense of epic tragedy Pappano conjures. The chorus sounds amazing – a huge range of colour, the Latin text pouring forth as though it was these singers’ first language, not to mention awesome attack and decibel levels.
Pappano’s conducting is full of the sort of details – accents, attention to phrasing and dynamics – that make this great canvas teem with musical life. I grew up with Ferenc Fricsay's famous recording, made in Berlin (for Deutsche Grammophon), moving on to the great Giulini version (EMI). Pappano is very much in their spiritual league, but his opera background ensures that this terrifying, paradoxically life-enhancing Mass for the Dead, knocks firmly on heaven’s door. As Dorothy Parker quipped: “You might as well live”.


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