MADRID / Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ returned to Ibermúsica
Madrid. National Auditorium (Symphonic Hall). 9-XI-2022. Green: Table of Requiem. Carmela Remigio, soprano; Anna Bonitatibus, mezzo-soprano; Valentino Buzza, tenor; Fabrizio Beggi, bass Milan Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Director: Claus Peter Flor.
the great one returned Requiem Mass from Giuseppe Verdi to Ibermúsica. Busseto’s colossal score has not been an assiduous visitor in this series: barely five performances since 1986, with two of them concentrated just now twenty-one years ago, when in two sessions (November 8 and 9, 1991) he put it on the lecterns one of its most celebrated performers, Carlo Maria Giulini, with the same ensembles (London Philharmonia Choir and Orchestra) with which he had taken it to record, many years before, in a record (EMI, today Warner) that continues to be reference.
Of the many details commented on by Eva Sandoval in the program notes, written with her proverbial relevance and precision, three are especially noteworthy to understand where we are. The first is the composer’s distance from any religiosity —not to confuse, as Sandoval opportunely points out, with spirituality—. This aspect, together with the prompt misfortunes suffered in the flesh, may very well be at the base of a highly dramatic treatment of death and its surroundings. Treatment that is patent in the apocalyptic drawing of the main motif of the die iraewhich reappears repeatedly throughout the work, and which is situated at the antipodes of a more hopeful approach, of more peace, such as that presented by Fauré’s mass for the dead (where the day of anger is absent) or, in another sense, the singular Requiem of Brahms.
The second detail, which largely derives from the first, is what Sandoval refers to, citing Von Bülow, as “the last opera in ecclesiastical garb”. Many have said, not without reason, that the Requiem It is Verdi’s best opera. Another thing follows from this: a musical direction is needed that squeezes Verdi’s dramatic extremes to their ultimate consequences, from the chilling pianissimi from the beginning and end of the work to the overwhelming trepidation of the aforementioned Die irae.
Lastly, Sandoval mentions the third detail, also largely connected to the second. Verdi makes no concessions. The score of the soloists is extremely committed and demanding. A vocal quartet that does not reach excellence is condemned a priori by a score that admits no shortcomings.
Coincidentally, in one of the appearances of this work years ago, in this same cycle, we had an example of the extent to which this limitation in the solo cast can weigh down a performance: Giulini’s performance mentioned above was marvelous from the orchestral point of view and coral, but it made waters for the soloist part, and that ballast could not be saved by the wonder that was on the podium.
What we heard yesterday afternoon at the National Auditorium was a performance that in the best moments reached a gray correctness, and in the less fortunate, a less than sufficient level. The Milan Symphony Orchestra seemed an estimable formation, capable but not exceptional, with sufficient filling and no dazzling sections. It started off very well, with a pianissimo very well drawn by the serious string. Later, some details (excess forcefulness in the bass drum, even when the score marked pianoor in the trombones, which covered a good part of the drawing of other metal instruments in the die irae) and the not excessive directorial finesse, were diluting the performance until it was simply acceptable, also with improvable filling in some compromised passage (the initial fanfare of the tuba mirum, which had too much blur and lacked tension).
The choir of the same formation, for its part, also showed a generally plausible cohesion, although in some pianissimo whispered, the closeness to speech rather than song may have seemed excessive (such occurred at some point in the mirum tuba). He saved the complicated escape from the Sanctus with plausible solvency, but in many other moments, especially in the climax of the die irae, it didn’t quite achieve the roundness that we remember from other great choral formations (the one from the Philharmonia immediately comes to the fore).
Claus Peter Flor is a competent but not particularly inspiring teacher. Without a baton, the gesture is clear, but its concept often seems a bit rough (some of the excesses mentioned could have been smoothed out from the podium) and its reading did not quite reach the dramatic temperature that a score like this undoubtedly contains. Nothing, perhaps, out of place, but neither of expressive subtlety, of dramatic inspiration, of that intense emotional charge that, beyond the moments of more adrenaline, contain so many passages of the work.
He was certainly not helped, as Giulini was at the time, by a vocal quartet whose capabilities were far from being able to meet Verdi’s fearsome demands. The best, by far, was the mezzo-soprano Bonitatibus, a sufficient and well-pitched voice, with an electric point of vibrato, but capable of nuances with taste and of proposing a very expressive singing line. His of hers were, without a doubt, the best moments of the evening, from the free scriptus to the lacrimosagoing through the I will remember.
The remaining three were downright disappointing. The tenor Buzza was perhaps the best, for a well-intentioned expressive song line rather than for an especially beautiful voice, seasoned with a somewhat trembling vibrato and seeming somewhat forced in his ascent to the high A. Acceptable, without further ado, his benefits in the Ingemisco and the Hosts. Bass Beggi aimed at principle (mors stupebit) good manners, with a voice that, without special beauty in timbre, showed sufficient volume and presence, as well as a plausible expressive intention. Unfortunately, she later had sporadic but noticeable intonation problems (thus in the confused) that blurred their performance.
But if there is any vocal soloist who has to achieve outstanding performance in this work, it is the soprano. For her, Verdi draws an inclement score, which demands even the high C and, as if that were not enough, subjects it to extreme nuances (the pppp on the B flat sharp at the end of the requiem aeternam, just before the final return of the Set me free, It’s a good example). I am very afraid that Carmela Remigio could not meet such fearsome demands. Her voice moves acceptably in the middle register, but it is forced in the high end without any possibility of flattening and, in fact, bordering on shrillness for more than a moment. The problems to fulfill the repeated Verdian demands of dpi by Remigio appeared in the Kyrie initial and subsequently reiterated (Tremendous Rex, I will remember, Agnus and, above all, the essential Set me free, that lost much of its shocking anguish due to this inability to respect the written nuance).
Symptomatic, for a work so loved by the public and grateful, that the reception of the public after the performance was far from the enthusiasm and warmth of other great evenings of this cycle. On this occasion, the Requiem verdiano, a colossal composition, which returned in good time to the Ibermúsica cycle, remained, when it came to results, in the gray area.
Rafael Ortega Basagoiti