- Requiem Mass, for soloists, chorus & orchestra (Manzoni Requiem)
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Giuseppe Verdi composed his Requiem late in life to commemorate the death of a dear friend, Alessandro Manzoni, the 19th-century novelist and poet. Since the Requiem's earliest performances, it has been criticized for its thrillingly dramatic character -- a quality unbefitting a religious work, according to some detractors. But it is precisely the operatic nature of the Requiem -- along with the sorrowful, deeply felt circumstances of its creation -- that makes it so compelling. The work's Latin text is highly dramatic, describing, for example, in terse, rhyming couplets the wrathful day of the Apocalypse. And Verdi, for once unhindered by the practicalities of staging an opera, unleashed the full range of his vivid musical palette, using at one particularly intense moment an ensemble of trumpets sounding the call to raise the dead for Judgment Day. Valery Gergiev, who conducts the Kirov Orchestra and Chorus in this performance, clearly appreciates Verdi's uniquely dramatic style, choosing to direct in a full-bodied, sculptural manner rather than with a subtle, painterly approach to the ensemble sound. And the sonic effect can be arresting: the cannonlike boom of the bass drum in the opening to the "Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath), or the massive brass chords punctuating the "Rex Tremendae Majestatis" (King of Terrible Majesty). Of the soloists, Renée Fleming and Andrea Bocelli are the star attractions here, and they perform at the caliber we would expect from them. But a more delightful discovery comes from the bass and mezzo soloists: Ildebrando D'Arcangelo and Olga Borodina. Both have rich, sonorous voices, and their moments in the soloists' sun stand out in this truly gripping performance of Verdi's great work.