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CD Review

Giuseppe Verdi

Messa da Requiem

Barbara Frittoli, soprano
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano
Mario Zeffiri, tenor
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Riccardo Muti
CSO Resound CSOR9011006
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This is excellent, but how many of these things does Chicago need? Consider this. This is at least the Chicago Symphony's third go at the work. Solti (RCA) and surprisingly Barenboim (Warner) are both highly regarded. Then it gets weirder. Solti also has a classic version in Vienna, Barenboim has a new version on Decca, and this is Muti's third recording of the piece. Former music director Fritz Reiner also has a thrilling take from Vienna. If you are a fan of the Chicago Symphony and its history, you didn't exactly need another Requiem, and neither did the artists at hand. Why review this, then? Because it's one of the best available. Go figure.

Muti has always been a committed Verdian, and despite health and age concerns, he remains one of the finest conductors working today. Like Solti and Barenboim before him, he has tremendous assets, not only in his orchestral players, but also in his fabulous chorus. They command respect from the very opening. Unlike many choruses tackling the piece, the tenors do not strain from the very beginning. As a tenor, I can honestly think of few uglier things. But no, the blend is exceedingly satisfying. Muti gives a powerful reading, full of dynamic contrast and emotional strength. He does not exaggerate fast and slow sections unduly, which I believe is a correct choice. This means that quicker sections don't sound rushed; the Sanctus is more tightly controlled than in the orchestra's previous effort with Barenboim. Additionally, choral contributions emerge with greater clarity and arguably more idiomatic diction. The excellent recorded sound helps immensely, too.

Barenboim had great male soloists and odd sounding female ones. Muti has good male soloists and odd sounding female ones. No matter how mismatched they are (and how odd Joan Sutherland is) Solti's soloists for his Decca rendition in Vienna are unbelievable even today. Solti's RCA reading with these forces features more idiomatic soloists on paper, but I haven't heard it. That leaves Muti somewhere in the middle; the soloists are adequate, and maybe above that. But the choral singing here is some of the clearest and cleanest I've heard on disc, and there probably isn't a better orchestra in America for this work. Muti gives his all, which means its still pretty special. This is a serious contender in a crowded field.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman