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Reviews: Verdi: Requiem - Harnoncourt

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Reviews: 4

Site review by Polly Nomial December 6, 2005
Performance:   Sonics:    
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Review by TT August 26, 2006 (1 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
i am very disappointed by this one! harnoncourts approach to verdis requiem is almost as failed as his approach to verdis aida. the tempi are very very slow and the soloists are chosen badly. Eva Mei is not a soprano for a requiem, but a spinto-soprano for bellinis or rossinis operas. Bernarda Fink is not in her top form here - remember the great arias sung by her in harnoncourts st.matthäus passion. Michael Schade is surely NO verdi tenor, his light voice fits better to mozart or haydn, just listen to the ingemsico in this performance: the voice of schade sounds really coerced, compare this ingemisco with the ingemsico of pavarotti (with solti) or of domingo (with barenboim)and you will experience this great difference. well Ildebrando D'Arcangelo is somehow THE bass for verdis requiem, he has sung this part for example wit gergiev (in another bad performance), too.
But beside the performance, the sonics of this release are quite horrible. Most of the time, you hear just the solists and the chorus, while the orchestra (the great Wien PO) seems to be vanished (likewise in gergiev verdis-requiem). i dont know what happend by the recording or what was going wrong in the wiener musikverein, for the sonics of harnoncourts mozarts-requiem are really great - and the mozart recording was also recorded live in the musikverein. perhaps the producer has done a bad job.the latter recordings of harnoncourt were produced by martin sauer, one of the best sacd-producers i think, but sauer is now mostly engaged by harmonia mundi, so RCA will have to choose other good producers, so that the sonics in the next sacd recording may be better. Finally to recommend a verdi requiem with good soncis, i would say the best verdi requiem at the time is abbados live recording. Abbado has also good (but not great) soloists: gheorghiu, alagna, barcellona, Konstantiov. The live recording is available as DVD with stunning DTS DVD sound (Euroarts DTS DVDs are really great, just listen to the Chailly DVDs with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the greatest music DVDs i have heard!).

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Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (4 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
by jfl | Saturday, January 14, 2006

Nikolaus Harnoncourt has been on a run lately – not unlike René Jacobs. Recording after recording stun because of their quality, inventiveness and musicality. Although Harnoncourt has proven mortal with a Messiah released just before Christmas (an oddly disengaged and rather dull live recording that attracts the label “rush job”), the live recording of the Verdi Requiem from the Musikverein in Vienna is a different matter. The recording has gotten some positive reviews, if not the universally glowing ones that his latest Mozart Requiem received, but then that is to be expected; Verdi being a more divisive composer when it comes to approaching him with any certain style. And ‘style’ is where Harnoncourt scores or doesn’t score – depending on your predilections.

The label ‘sacred opera’ has stuck with this work ever since Hans von Bülow penned his critique “Oper im Kirchengewande” (Opera in Church-cloth). George Bernard Shaw, who knew a good phrase when he saw one, didn’t hesitate to pick it up in his review after the London premier. Eduard Hanslick, interestingly, was more differentiated – but if he didn’t blame Verdi so much for what he heard, he took exception to an all-too operatic delivery of several lines in the work. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs’ informative liner notes in the Harnoncourt recording try to establish that the critique of Verdi’s work as ‘operatic’ was mostly unfair… but then goes on to detail how even Verdi objected to it being interpreted as opera by his singers. (“…this mass should not be sung like an opera; phrases and dynamics as would be appropriate in the theater would not, not in the least, please me here!”) Whether the label was ill applied or not, it went on to be worn as a badge of honor over the years – and many operatic-as-can-be recordings testify to that effect. Gardiner’s recording on Philips (helped by perhaps the best chorus) was a welcome break from that routine.

Now comes Harnoncourt and goes some steps further. If his recording immediately moves to the top of my list, it does so for a general quality of the music making, but also because of those interpretive decisions that others might find the very detriment to this recording. His singers are veterans of the great opera houses, but they are not primarily Verdians and have voices that are on the lighter and expressive, rather than heavy, dramatic side. Eva Mei (soprano), Bernada Fink (mezzo), Michael Schade (tenor), and Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (bass) bring agility to the Requiem and sing extraordinarily unmannered. D’Arcangelo is not the deepest of basses to have sung this role, nor are he and his colleague Schade the most authoritative. Even singing with delicacy in mind as they do, more power would not necessarily hurt (if judiciously applied) – although if choosing between either extreme, I’d at once opt for the way this recording presents the male voices. The women are not lacking vocal reserves; it is to their credit that they don’t dispense it all at once.

The effect is one of occasional understatement, the extreme grandeur, that moving and over-powering sweep that the Verdi Requiem can have in the best of the ‘heavy’ performances is missing, especially towards the end of the work. Precision and detail are present in spades, though. If you have set expectations of the emotional effect of this work on you, you might experience (initial) disappointment. But if slurred, indiscriminate, and excessive portamento annoys the living hell out of you, this is the recording to have. Harnoncourt mercifully cut that habit down to the very minimum – and I am all for it. (Even just one dose of Andrea Bocelli’s – can I mention that name here? – cat-like howl in the opening of the Gergiev recording will forever cure you of any fondness you might have had for that technique.)

Harnoncourt also uses an edition that includes corrected dynamics and instrumentation. It probably enters the result – which I love for the mentioned reasons – but I cannot say that shy of following the score meticulously, this would be noticeable in any particular instance. The SACD sound (this disc is only available as a SACD hybrid) only helps the immense detail and clarity. There are no audience noises that I was able to discern.

RCA Red Seal 82876 61244 2

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Review by Oakland February 6, 2008 (3 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Two weeks ago I attended a splendid performance of Verdi’s Requiem, replete with beautifully burnished brass in the galleries. (It’s amazing how much more I can enjoy a live performance when I take off my audiophile cap/blinders).

I “prepped” for the performance (as I try to do as much as possible) by doing some reading on the work and listening to performance(s) I have on hand. I pulled out the Red Seal (Sony) Harnoncourt/Vienna live performance SACD. Don’t get me wrong, I do see some redeeming virtues of this performance and sound, but without getting into all the details why, this SACD, after several listens, is just not satisfying to me. Nagging issues related to performance and sound preclude me from enjoying this SACD.

The choir and soloists I found to be good (though not exceptional), except for the tenor who sometimes sounds “severe” to me. The bass soloist is a tad weak, but acceptable. They all lack that last ounce of "weight" I have come to expect.

The sound quality is mostly 4 star, but certainly not outstanding (my bar for newly recorded SACD). Unfortunately things get audibly congested during some of the fortissimo, a serious drawback in that there are ample loud passages in the Requiem. Also, I think that there may have been an attempt to expunge the audience noises, which I rarely think is a good idea, and seems (to me) to muck up the sound. But that is just a guess on my part. The low end is quite good with the timpani and bass drums sounding authentic and deep.

But at the end of the day (performance) it all does not hang together; it simply does not capture the different moods/emotions that I find are so abundant in this wonderful work. I never found myself getting “sentimental”. In fact, I found the performance in key areas to be dispassionate (perhaps a bit to strong of a description) or indifferent and almost non-Italian.

And if ever a classical work pleads in earnest for multi-channel the Verdi Requiem is that work. And the multi-channel aspect of the Harnoncourt/Vienna SACD is done very well. For example, the horns during the call to judgment Tuba mirum are realistically distantly placed toward the sides/rear but don’t “blare” you out of your listening chair like the too close (and too loud) rear horn perspective of the Norrington Berlioz Requiem.

But that’s not enough to save the day, and I will almost certainly never play the Harnoncourt Verdi Requiem again, reaching for instead the plentiful two-channel versions I own even though Harnoncourt recording quality and sense of space surpasses these more highly regarded (to me) interpretations.

What I'm looking for is a top tier or at least excellent interpretation, that is well recorded and (here's the rub) that brings the performance *closer* (not all the way there, of course) to what I experienced in the live venue two weeks ago. For me, multi-channel is a requisite to meet that bar.

Robert C. Lang

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