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Verdi: Requiem / Temirkanov, St. Petersburg PO

Verdi / Giannattasio / Simeoni / Temirkanov
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Signum Classics   Catalog #: 184  
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Carlo ColombaraCarmen GiannattasioVeronica SimeoniAlexander Timchenko
Conductor:  Yuri Temirkanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Philharmonic OrchestraMikhailovsky Theater Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VERDI Requiem Yuri Temirkanov, cond; Carmen Giannattasio (sop); Veronica Simeoni (mez); Alexander Timchenko (ten); Carlo Colombara (bs); Mikhailovsky Th Ch; St Petersburg PO SIGNUM 184 (2 CDs: 85:53) Live: St Petersburg 3/2/2009

Although nowhere stated in the documentation, this performance is very obviously live, always an advantage in this work, the sense of occasion vividly conveyed, with a cumulative emotional impact hard to achieve under studio conditions.

Temirkanov Read more is of course best known for his exciting, often idiosyncratic performances of Russian music. His forays into other repertoires are typically colorful, high-voltage, sometimes a little unsubtle. Here he establishes his Verdian credentials in a performance that, while lacking nothing in idiomatic command, is notable for largely playing it straight, in a serious, symphonic conception free of personal idiosyncrasies (perhaps surprisingly for those familiar with his Tchaikovsky recordings).

Its rhythmic sweep and sense of the long line are evident from the outset, in the firm, purposeful tread underpinning the hushed Requiem aeternam , leading to a Kyrie of thrilling forward momentum. Throughout, the performance combines inexorability and flexibility in ideal proportion, with impressive cumulative building to the overwhelming climaxes of the Lacrymosa and Libera me . I note with pleasure that the orchestra has retained much of its distinctively dark sound from the Mravinsky days. It plays the score with an idiomatic rhythmic brio that more than once brings Toscanini to mind, though an occasional tendency to smooth out Verdi’s prescribed articulations might be more reminiscent of Karajan: for instance, the bassoon figure in the Quid sum miser ; and conspicuously legato downward string spirals in the Dies irae . The chorus is quite outstanding—superb tuning, rhythmic precision, and tonal body (with distinctively Russian vowel sounds), and thrilling élan in the Dies irae , Sanctus, and Libera me.

The soloists (about whom the booklet incredibly gives no information whatsoever!) are the weakest link in the performance; all are adequate, but consistently less distinctive than the competition. The soprano has the requisite weight and presence for the big moments but lacks something in technical finesse when called for—e.g., in the soprano/alto duet of the Recordare ; or the B?-Minor return of the Requiem aeternam in the middle of the Libera me , where the score’s finer dynamic distinctions from p to pppp go for little. The alto sings nicely at quiet dynamic levels (the Lacrymosa , for instance), but is rather approximate in the demanding Liber scriptus —complete with a particularly egregious instance of the near-universal bad habit of scooping up to the E at “proferetur” (for proof that it can actually be sung as Verdi wrote it, hear the stunning Nina Isakova in another Russian version, Markevitch’s with Moscow forces for Philips in 1960, available only in a Japanese edition; or more recently, Bernarda Fink for Harnoncourt). Alexander Timchenko’s tenor is light and flexible with a distinctively Russian timbre; like most tenors, he misrepresents the rhythm in the Hostias , stretching Verdi’s precisely notated 16th notes to casual triplet eighths (Villazon, for Pappano, is one of the few who gets the rhythm right here). The bass is solid but unexceptional.

The live recording is naturally balanced, less spectacular than some, but with good orchestral and choral detail in a well-defined space.

Comparison with his compatriot Gergiev (Philips studio recording, 2000) is fascinating: The younger maestro’s conception much more theatrical, with an endless supply of ear-catching orchestral details that some will like more than others (I do); he also has the advantage of incomparable women soloists in Fleming and Borodina, but the liability of Bocelli’s bleating his way through the tenor part. Pappano (EMI/live, Rome 2009) might be thought of as, in a sense, the opposite of Temirkanov in his supremely vocal (versus symphonic) conception; unrivaled in his natural plasticity of flexible vocal phrasing, and boasting an outstanding solo quartet, but an unattractively close, dry recording. Harnoncourt (RCA/live, Vienna 2004) is characteristically thought-provoking, both more intimately lyrical and less idiomatically Italian than any of his rivals, and with a badly miscast soprano in the small-toned Eva Mei. Abbado (EMI/live, Berlin 2001) has tremendous weight and grandeur, combining phenomenal registering of orchestral detail with overwhelming emotional impact, and with outstandingly imaginative women soloists in Gheorghiu and Barcellona.

There is no text or translation, if this is important to you. Overall, the new recording can take its place with the best of the recent competition on the strength of its conducting, and superb orchestral and choral work, despite less than stellar solo contributions. If I were forced to choose just one Verdi Requiem from the first decade of our brave new century, it would have to be Abbado/Berlin. But the very idea of limiting oneself to one recording of this work is too awful to contemplate, and the Temirkanov offers a wonderfully satisfying experience on its own unique terms.

FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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Works on This Recording

Requiem Mass by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Carlo Colombara (Bass), Carmen Giannattasio (Soprano), Veronica Simeoni (Mezzo Soprano),
Alexander Timchenko (Tenor)
Conductor:  Yuri Temirkanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra,  Mikhailovsky Theater Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Italy 

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