Verdi’s Requiem launched the LSO’s 2016 17 Barbican season last September in performances that, by all accounts, were high-voltage occasions. Not that hearing a performance retrospectively in the privacy of one’s own room is quite the same as hearing it live, especially in an age where live recordings are often hybrid affairs, patched and remixed for wider consumption.
Some of the great performances of the Requiem on record are one hundred per cent live. As such they enjoy their own particular structural and emotional integrity. I think of Toscanini, live in Carnegie Hall in 1951, or a recently unearthed 1962 Salzburg Festival performance conducted by Karajan with Giulietta Simionato and Leontyne Price leading the vocal quartet. But there are other factors at play. Different as those two performances are – the Toscanini high on drama with its own peculiarly Verdian articulacy, the Karajan possessed of what Rob Cowan has described as ‘a devotional spirit and chamber-like intimacy quite unlike any other’ – each is rooted in a close adherence to the spirit (and often the letter) of Verdi’s tempo markings.
Some of the electricity generated by Gianandrea Noseda derives from his playing fast and loose with these markings. In the opening movement, Verdi’s carefully calibrated tempo relationships go out of the window as the speed for the ‘Te decet hymnus’ is more than double that of the performance’s over-slow (and virtually inaudible) realisation of the opening bars. By contrast, Noseda’s headlong way with the ‘Dies irae’ is highly persuasive, for all that this is less an Allegro agitato at Verdi’s steady minim=80, more an Allegro precipitoso at minim=90, rather as Ferenc Fricsay’s was in an orchestrally incandescent recording from the 1950s (DG, 4/55).
Noseda’s performances were reported to be a very live affair. Is the fact that on record the tension tends to come and go due to too relaxed an approach in some of the meditative solos or to a degree of discontinuity in the make-up sessions?
Though the soloists can’t boast the Verdian pedigree of Pappano’s quartet on his 2009 Rome recording, they give a decent account of themselves nonetheless. Bass Michele Pertusi is exemplary, with a lovely legato quality (and a decent trill). Daniela Barcellona may lack the vocal allure of the best of her rivals but she is a safe pair of hands in a role she first recorded with Claudio Abbado in 2001 (Warner, 1/02). Soprano Erika Grimaldi is at her best when projecting the drama of the text, though she struggles with Noseda’s impossibly slow tempo in the ‘Requiem aeternam’ of the Libera me. Elsewhere she and distinguished Rossini tenor Francesco Meli acquit themselves plausibly, helped, one suspects, by a pragmatically assembled mix of takes.
The LSO Chorus are superb throughout, as are the LSO themselves. The strings and brass, especially, respond to Noseda’s direction with refinement and panache.