DONIZETTI Requiem (Luks)
When Vincenzo Bellini died in 1835 at just 34, Donizetti, four years his junior, was determined to honour his memory. Such was the rough-and-tumble nature of his career, though, that he had to abandon his Requiem after just a month: what we have, though substantial, is incomplete, with no Agnus Dei, Benedictus or Sanctus.
It wasn’t heard, so far as we know, until 1870 and is only sparsely represented on disc. A recording featuring Pavarotti and Renato Bruson that appeared on Decca is long deleted (4/81), leaving Miguel Angel Gomez-Martinez’s Orfeo reading the main recommendation (8/89). Even in its incomplete form, it’s an imposing score: serious, considered and audibly sitting on the spectrum between the Requiems of Mozart and Verdi. There’s plenty of melody, as one would expect, as well as some fluent contrapuntal writing; while there’s no shortage of drama, the composer never resorts to melodrama.
This new release stands distinct from previous recordings, of course, for being on DVD, filmed at a concert that took place as part of Warsaw’s ‘Chopin and his Europe’ Festival. It also features period instruments: Collegium 1704’s raspy brass, mellow winds and reedy strings give the piece a welcome freshness. The chorus make a good concentrated sound, too, with the tenors standing out for their plangent tone.
The soloists are very respectable, though one misses a certain Italianate brightness and warmth in the Slavonic line-up. Václav Luks conducts with evident affection and with a welcome alertness to both the drama and the many telling details in Donizetti’s orchestration – the lovely, sighing duet between solo violin and cello in the ‘Ingemisco’, for example.
The camera direction is perhaps a little busy, and the lens on some shots stretches out the picture unnaturally. It’s also a shame that the release seems not to be available on Blu-ray; the DVD retails at a relatively high price, though it does usefully include complete text and translation. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable record of a satisfying performance of a rewarding work.