Yes, let's get this out of the way right now; this is indeed Daniel Barenboim's second go at the Verdi Requiem. His first was a mostly excellent outing with the Chicago Symphony on Warner. Since that previous effort proved so successful, I had to wonder about the motivations for this one, besides the usual "composer x tribute year" thing, and the presence of Italian forces, which is not a sure winner by itself. But a careful listen shows that Barenboim's first go-around suffered from odd soloists and in retrospect a touch of stiffness. This reverses everything, mostly for the better, and the end result is touchingly human.
This means that the playing and choral singing loses the polish of the Chicago forces. To compensate, Barenboim adapts a more raw and rough approach that stresses the theatrical. Tempos are a touch more measured, but slower sections seen to me a bit more flowing and natural. The vocal soloists are all wonderful, highlighted by tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who is at the absolute peak of his powers. While the singing and playing has already been mentioned as slightly inferior to the Chicagoans, this is true of almost everybody on the planet, so the full-throated and full-hearted approach works just fine for me.
This was recorded live, and while I don't always subscribe to the idea that live performances are more thrilling or worthy than studio ones, I have to say that Barenboim effectively differentiates from his first thoughts on the work. Big moments are really big, both in size, but also in tension and meaning. There is a sense of occasion and drama that is just not present in the very fine studio version. Certainly the more appropriate solo team is a plus – although the men on Warner, headed by a still great Placido Domingo, are just fine – and so are the huge and very sincere musicians at work here. This shouldn't be your only Verdi Requiem, but it's a remake that's worth hearing. Barenboim has been doing a lot of work with very eager but less than world class orchestras lately. Despite all of his humanitarian and political work, it's really great to see him working with a team that can execute his vision. A very heartfelt effort.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman