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Bottesini: Messa Da Requiem / Martin, London Philharmonic, Joyful Company Of Singers

Bottesini / Martin / Joyful Company Of Singers
Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572994   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giovanni Bottesini
Performer:  Marta MathéuGemma Coma-AlabertAgustin Prunell-FriendEnric Martínez-Castignani
Conductor:  Thomas Martin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic OrchestraJoyful Company of Singers
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BOTTESINI Requiem Thomas Martin, cond; Marta Mathéu (sop); Gemma Coma-Alabert (mez); Agustin Prunell-Friend (ten); Enrie Martinez-Castignani (bar); Joyful Company of Singers; London PO NAXOS 8.572994 (65:25 Text and Translation)

What a strange and wonderful confluence of coincidences is the world of classical music recordings. You’ll no doubt read this review first because Bottesini comes alphabetically before Suppé in the composer section of the magazine, but Read more it’s a new release of Suppé’s Requiem that I received and reviewed first. In that review, I marvel at the existence of so many Requiem Masses written by composers you would least expect to have taken an interest in the medium, and I note a website which purports to document every Requiem composed in the last thousand years, or, in essence, the entire history of Western music.

There are over 5,000 of them—gasp!—and on the list is this one by Giovanni Bottesini (1821–1889), another seemingly unlikely candidate for the job. Why do I say that? Because to the extent that Bottesini is remembered today, it’s for his reputation as “the Paganini of the double bass.” It’s not true, of course, that Bottesini wrote nothing but virtuoso showpieces for his instrument. In fact, he seems to have turned out 14 operas, at least one of which, Ero e Leandro , has been recorded. But everything else by Bottesini features the double bass, either as a solo instrument or as part of a chamber ensemble; except—and yes, there are two exceptions—for this Requiem Mass and one other work, a sacred oratorio titled The Garden of Olivet.

Bottesini composed the Requiem in 1877 in response to the death of his brother Luigi. According to the above-mentioned website, requiemsurvey.org, there has been one previous recording of the work on Fonit/Cetra LMA 3015, but on LP only. I find no evidence of it being transferred to CD, nor do I find any CD listing for it beyond this new Naxos release. And yet, there’s no indication anywhere in the album that this is the work’s first appearance on silver disc.

John W. Lambert, author of the website’s description of the piece, says of it the following: “Bottesini’s Requiem, first heard in 1880, is an unusual work in many respects. For one thing, it is larger than many other such pieces from his period. Its last number is not the usual Requiem aeternam (which in Bottesini’s work is actually entitled ‘Finale’). Instead, the formal finale is followed by a Libera me and a dramatic Dies illa . Elsewhere, too, there are many departures from the norm. These include a richly melodic Ingemisco for bass solo, a Domine Jesu for soprano solo, and a solo quartet (as opposed to the more customary chorus) for the Benedictus. The scoring is often operatic in nature—in this regard, the work resembles Verdi’s more famous requiem. At intervals, the composer seems to have gotten carried away with trumpets, drums, and such, but for the most part this is a lovely work that treats its subject matter with considerable sensitivity.”

There would seem to be some debatable points in Lambert’s narrative. First, Verdi’s “more famous Requiem” was first performed in 1874, so it’s a bit strange to say that Bottesini’s Requiem, composed just three years later is larger than many other such pieces from his period. It’s certainly not larger, either in duration or forces employed, than Verdi’s score. Moreover, Verdi also set his Ingemisco and Domine Jesu for solo vocalists, and tacked on a Libera me after the final Requiem aeternam. And as for getting carried away with trumpets and drums, it would take some doing to outdo Verdi’s musical depiction of Judgment Day.

If and when you get around to reading my review of the Suppé Requiem, you’ll know how impressed I was with that work; I called it the finest and most powerful Requiem between Mozart’s and Verdi’s, leaving Berlioz’s out of the mix. Having now heard Bottesini’s contribution to the genre, I can say that it, too, contains some magnificent music and memorable moments, but overall, I find it not as compelling as Suppe’s.

Bottesini’s Requiem is filled with really beautiful music and many truly thrilling passages, but the one thing that seems to be missing is the fright factor. The problem stems from Bottesini’s word-painting. There are places where the music feels out of character with the words being sung. An example comes early in the Dies irae on the words Quantus tremor est futurus . There’s no trembling in Bottesini’s portrayal, and no shiver goes up the spine, as it does in Verdi’s Requiem, on the words Mors stupebit . Still, it’s amazing that a man whose virtually sole claim to fame was his brilliance as a double bass virtuoso should have managed anything on this scale and as impressive as this. But in the end, even though Bottesini produced over a dozen operas, Suppé and yes Verdi were more men of the theater. They understood that a requiem was as much a matter of dramatics and theatrics as it was of beautiful music. But please don’t let this put you off Bottesini’s Requiem, for beautiful music there is in abundance. And who cares, really, if the tenor’s Quid sum miser sounds like Tamino’s aria pining for Pamina or that Bottesini very nearly quotes the opening progression from Mozart’s Rex tremendae in his Quaerens me. If you’re a Requiem hound, here is a new one to add to your collection.

I suppose one would have to share my twisted sense of humor to find it side-splittingly funny, as I do, that a Requiem should be sung by a choir named Joyful Company of Singers, but there’s nothing funny about the savvy singing of this long-established, professional choral organization. Its contribution to this performance, along with that of the four vocal soloists and, needless to say, the London Philharmonic, is first-rate. Sympathetically led by Thomas Martin and superbly recorded by Naxos in Henry Wood Hall, this rare recording of Bottesini’s rarely heard Requiem is unreservedly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Requiem by Giovanni Bottesini
Performer:  Marta Mathéu (Soprano), Gemma Coma-Alabert (Mezzo Soprano), Agustin Prunell-Friend (Tenor),
Enric Martínez-Castignani (Baritone)
Conductor:  Thomas Martin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Joyful Company of Singers
Written: 1877 

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