Verdi Messa da Requiem

 

Verdi Messa da Requiem concert (Decca calls this title "Verdi Requiem," but we use the complete name in Italian because we already have other entries on the Alphalist using that name). Daniel Barenboim conducts the Orchestra and Coro del Teatro alla Scala in 2012 with Chorus Master Bruno Casoni. Soloists are Anja Harteros (soprano), Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano), Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), and René Pape (bass). Video director was Andy Sommer; director of photography was Martial Barrault; sound engineer was Rodrigue Durand. Sung in Latin. There are, however, no subtitles in Latin, nor is there a printed libretto in the keepcase booklet. Subtitles are translated into English, French, and German. Released 2013, sound was recorded at 48kHz/24-bit and disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

In his recent review on the Classics Today website, Robert Levine called the CD edition of this recording a “grand Verdi Requiem”, although his rating of 8/9 (on a 10/10 scale) was tempered mostly by his perception that the audio was “fiercely digitized … i.e., slightly artificial. You get over it, even as you wonder how the solo voices and players manage to pop out of the dense fabric.” Perhaps his review and rating would have been more positive if he had auditioned the Blu-ray. On my system, in the high-resolution 48kHz/24-bit surround audio on the HDVD (the CD’s 44.1kHz/16-bit audio is not considered high-resolution), I hear none of the anomalies that he describes. There is an awesome dynamic range with stunning impact in the lower frequencies; the soloists and chorus are well balanced with the orchestra, sounding very much like what one would hear in a great concert hall. By the way, Mr. Levine’s comments about the performance itself are highly laudatory, and it’s really not clear to me why his “Artistic Quality” rating is 8 rather than 10.

This concert was given on August 27, 2012 in Milan’s sumptuous Teatro alla Scala (apparently the CD version was edited from a second performance as well), and represents an inspired, virtuosic performance by the orchestra, chorus, and, most notably, the four soloists. Elīna Garanča gives a particularly glorious rendition of the mezzo part (and how is it possible that she looks even more beautiful now than she did in the DG HDVD of The Opera Gala recorded five years earlier?). In the Dies irae, there are groups of three trumpeters positioned left and right in upper balcony boxes. They are seen and discretely heard (in the rear channels), with the surround effect being both musical and thrilling. All of these forces are impressively led (without a score) by Daniel Barenboim, who, at age 71, may be in the process of laying claim to the title of the “World's Most Important Musician”!

But the video coverage seems somewhat schizophrenic. But before discussing this further, it's time for some screenshots (which Hank McFadyen helped me with). Here are soloists Harteros, Garanča, Kaufmann, and Pape in the left to right order they have as you see them on the stage. First the serene soprano Harteros:

csnap-verdirequiemaug00001.png

The intense Garanča, providing further evidence that God might just turn out to be a woman:

The handsome Kaufman:

And the avuncular Pape:

Put these 4 superstars together and you get a marvelous quartet with Barenboim messing up the picture:

Here are three views of the chorus with a pretty girl the cameraman could not resist. If she will send us her name, we will we give her credit:

We fans of HDVD symphony concerts like to see views of the whole orchestra (which is a huge improvement over lower-resolution DVDs that can't show the whole orchestra well). But the picture below does not count as a whole orchestra shot because the image of the orchestra and chorus only takes up about half of the width of the screen or about 25% of the frame space available. There are about 32 whole-orchestra shots in subject video, but more than half of them are too long-range to have much value. These are "architecture shots" which direct your attention to the building rather than to the music:

The next 2 shots are somewhat better, but still not what you deserve. In one picture, the camera is too low to show well the depth of the orchestra. In the other picture, the camera is too high. Sommers never found a place to locate his cameras to get a really satisfactory view of the whole orchestra and chorus:

This may be best whole-orchestra view on the disc. This view only appears a few times and usually doesn't last very long:

There are, however, 44 part-orchestra shots that are mostly-decent and enjoyable:

Here is a nice shot where the second violins and violas are working together. This proves that Sommers could get section and multi-section shots with his cameras. Alas, we counted only about 20 of these (ignoring the 2-player sections):

When you flog your cameramen to produce 950+ clips in 88 minutes, they don't have much time to compose beautiful, trouble-free pictures (That's right, the picture changes in this video more than 950 times and the average clip lasts about 5.5 seconds.). So the cameramen resorted to easy or lazy tricks like 65 instrument-only shots and 192 shots of Barenboim conducting.

Since haste makes waste, it's not surprising there are 12 shots with gruesome focus and composition issues. You do not hang out your $3,000 suit for sale with buttons missing. Here the camera shoots down a row of 9 faces with about 20 inches of depth of field of focus:

Focus and composition errors:

I guess this was supposed to be yet another picture of Barenboim, but Kaufmann's head is in the way as well as the flailing arms and mallets of the tympani player:

Well, if you are familiar with our special article on the good HDVD video of a symphony orchestra, you know there is certainly some degree of DVDitis here, although nothing like the eccentricities foisted upon us in the guise of “creativity” by some video directors (Karina Fibich, are you listening?).

The video editing appears much of the time to be a function of the musical tempo at any given point in the work. For example, the Dies Irae begins with a storming of the heavens (track 4) for which Barenboim sets a perfect tempo, magisterially weighty but with an inexorable momentum. Here the video director apparently believes that exciting sounds must be matched by frenetic editing: I counted 52 cuts in the 2:28 duration of this section, with several shots actually lasting less than one second. In my opinion, this approach is totally misconceived. Why not let the music speak for itself? I would much rather have seen most of that 2:28 devoted to the full-stage views of the orchestra and chorus that are offered at 11:23 and 12:18, with a few close-up and mid-range shots inserted for variety. On the other hand, when Ms. Garanča opens the “Liber scriptus” segment (track 7) of the Dies Irae, the camera appropriately remains fixed on her for a full minute. Why couldn’t we have more coverage like this?

My summary description (modified from Mr. Levine’s) is that this is a stupendously grand Verdi Messa da Requiem. However, the final grade must reflect the realities of what is actually on the disc. The lack of Latin subtitles and the limited subtitles in translation will be problem for some. The huge dynamic range may mean that folks with modest playback gear will have to fiddle a bit with the volume control. For using audio that is less than SOTA (viz., 96kHz/24-bit), we automatically downgrade from an A+ to an A. But the biggest problem is the video that is wonderful at times and frustratingly afflicted with DVDitis at other times. This might in fact be the best video recording available now of the Verdi Requiem. The disc is a best-selling Blu-ray at the vendors. But it could have been substantially better.

Why does the recording industry continue to publish Blu-ray symphony discs that don't take full advantage of the HD cameras? It's probably not the fault of the artists or folks like Andy Sommers who direct the video. Record industry business managers still figure they can make more money making a DVD and then selling the Blu-ray version at a higher price on better resolution alone. They may be right. Maybe the market still isn't there to pay for Blu-rays shot separately from DVDs. All we can do is to grade down these spruced up DVDs. Then when the industry starts making really good symphony HDVDs. we can reward them with A+ grades.

Final grade = "B."

P.S. For those of you who don't know the text of the Latin requiem mass by heart, we have added an appendix with the Latin text and an English translation. 

Appendix

I. Requiem and Kyrie

Chorus:
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam:
ad te omnis caro veniet.

Quartet and Chorus:
Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

I. Requiem and Kyrie

Chorus:
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord;
and may perpetual light shine upon them.
A hymn in Zion befits you, O God,
and a debt will be paid to you in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer:
all earthly flesh will come to you.

Quartet and Chorus:
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

II. Sequence

Chorus:
Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.

Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!

Tuba mirum spargens sonum,
per sepulcra regionem,
coget omnes ante thronum.

Bass:
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.

Mezzo-soprano and Chorus:
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur.

Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet apparebit:
nil inultum remanebit.

Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.

Soprano, Mezzo-soprano and Tenor:
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?

Solo Quartet and Chorus:
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos salvas gratis:
salva me, fons pietas.

Soprano and Mezzo-soprano:
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae:
ne me perdas illa die.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus;
redemisti crucem pacem:
tantus labor non sit causas.

Juste judex ultionis:
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.

Tenor:
Ingemisco tamquam reus,
culpa rubet vultus meus;
supplicanti parce, Deus.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meae non sunt digne,
sed tu, bonus, fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.

Inter oves locum praesta,
et ab haedis me sequestra,
statuens in parte dextra.

Bass and Chorus:
Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis,
voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis:
gere curam mei finis.

Chorus:
Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.

Solo Quartet and Chorus:
Lacrymosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla,
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus.

Pie Jesu Domine:
dona eis requiem.
Amen.

II. Sequence

Chorus:
The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world in ashes,
as David and the Sibyl prophesied.

How great will be the terror,
when the Judge comes
who will smash everything completely!

The trumpet, scattering a marvelous sound
through the tombs of every land,
will gather all before the throne.

Bass:
Death and Nature shall stand amazed,
when all Creation rises again
to answer to the Judge.

Mezzo-soprano and Chorus:
A written book will be brought forth,
which contains everything
for which the world will be judged.

Therefore when the Judge takes His seat,
whatever is hidden will be revealed:
nothing shall remain unavenged.

The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world in ashes,
as David and the Sibyl prophesied.

Soprano, Mezzo-soprano and Tenor:
What can a wretch like me say?
Whom shall I ask to intercede for me,
when even the just ones are unsafe?

Solo Quartet and Chorus:
King of dreadful majesty.
who freely saves the redeemed ones,
save me, O font of pity.

Soprano and Mezzo-soprano:
Recall, merciful Jesus,
that I was the reason for your journey:
do not destroy me on that day.

In seeking me, you sat down wearily;
enduring the Cross, you redeemed me:
do not let these pains to have been in vain.

Just Judge of punishment:
give me the gift of redemption
before the day of reckoning.

Tenor:
I groan as a guilty one,
and my face blushes with guilt;
spare the supplicant, O God.

You, who absolved Mary Magdalen,
and heard the prayer of the thief,
have given me hope, as well.

My prayers are not worthy,
but show mercy, O benevolent one,
lest I burn forever in fire.

Give me a place among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
placing me on your right hand.

Bass and Chorus:
When the damned are silenced,
and given to the fierce flames,
call me with the blessed ones.

I pray, suppliant and kneeling,
with a heart contrite as ashes:
take my ending into your care.

Chorus:
The day of wrath, that day will
dissolve the world in ashes,
as David and the Sibyl prophesied.

Solo Quartet and Chorus:
That day is one of weeping,
on which shall rise from the ashes
the guilty man, to be judged.
Therefore, spare this one, O God.

Merciful Lord Jesus:
grant them peace.
Amen.

III. Offertorio

Quartet:
Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae:
libera animas omnium fidelum
defunctorum de poenis inferni
et profondo lacu; libera eas de ore leonis;
ne absorbeat eas tartarus,
ne cadant in obscurum.
Sed signifer sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam.
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.

Hostias et preces tibi, Domine, laudis offerimus.
Tu suscipe pro animabus illis, quarum hodie memoriam facimus.
Fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam,
quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini ejus.

Libera animas omnium fidelum defunctorum de poenis inferni;
fac eas de morte transire ad vitam.

III. Offertorio

Quartet:
O Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory:
deliver the souls of all the faithful
dead from the pains of hell and from the
deep pit; deliver them from the mouth of the lion;
that hell may not swallow them, and
that they may not fall into darkness.
But may the holy standard-bearer Michael
show them the holy light;
which you once promised to Abraham and his descendents.

We offer to you, O Lord, sacrifices and prayers.
Receive them on behalf of those souls whom we commemorate today.
Grant, O Lord, that they might pass from death into that life
which you once promised to Abraham and his descendents.

Deliver the souls of all the faithful dead from the pains of hell;
Grant that they might pass from death into that life.

IV. Sanctus

Double Chorus:
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis!
Benedictus qui venit in nomini Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

IV. Sanctus

Double Chorus:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are filled with your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

V. Agnus Dei

Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, and Chorus:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem sempiternam.

V. Agnus Dei

Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, and Chorus:
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest everlasting.

VI. Lux aeterna

Mezzo-soprano, Tenor and Bass:
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternam; quia pius es.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternam; quia pius es.

VI. Lux aeterna

Mezzo-soprano, Tenor and Bass:
Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord,
with your saints forever; for you are merciful.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them
with your saints forever; for you are merciful.

VII. Libera me

Soprano and Chorus:
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda;
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra:
dum veneris judicare saeclum per ignem.

Tremens factus sum ego et timeo, dum discussio venerit atque ventura irae, quando coeli movendi sunt et terra.

Dies irae, dies illa calamitatis et miseriae; dies magna et amara valde.

Requiem aeternam, dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda.

Libera me, Domine, quando coeli movendi sunt et terra;
dum veneris judicare saeclum per ignem.

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna in die illa tremenda.
Libera me.

VII. Libera me

Soprano and Chorus:
Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death on that awful day,
when the heavens and the earth shall be moved:
when you will come to judge the world by fire.

I tremble, and I fear the judgment and the wrath to come, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.

The day of wrath, that day of calamity and misery; a great and bitter day, indeed.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.

Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that awful day.

Deliver me, O Lord, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved;
when you will come to judge the world by fire.

Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death on that awful day.
Deliver me.