Classic FM Magazine, April 2010
Hard on the heels of new recordings of Verdi’s Requiem from Colin Davis and Antonio Pappano, come two more ‘live’ versions: Temirkanov’s from St Petersburg last year and Domingo’s from Munich in 2006.
Temirkanov has rather lost ground since the charismatic Valery Gergiev took over from him at the Kirov (Marinsky) Theatre; but he has been in charge of the St Petersburg Philharmonic since 1988 and the orchestra plays splendidly for him here. What particularly marks out the performance is his attention to dynamics. Verdi littered the score with injunctions to sing and play softly, from pp to ppppp: Temirkanov generally follows these, whereas Domingo is less scrupulous. Neither conductor observes the distinction in the Sanctus between the first chorus’s mf and the second chorus’s p. Domingo’s Sanctus also suffers from an over-prominent trumpet doubling the vocal line; a fault also noticeable earlier in the Lacrymosa.
Temirkanov has a superior team of soloists. Tenor Alexander Timchenko starts well by taking Kyrie eleison in one breath. He phrases ingemisco and Hostias elegantly, whereas Marco Berti sounds graceless in the former and strained in the latter. Carlo Colombara, the brass, finds a proper sense of awe at Mors stupebit; Ildar Abdrazákov is more matter-of-fact. The mezzos are fine; of the sopranos, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs wobbles in places and puzzlingly sings the penultimate phrase of the Agnus Dei in unison with Fredrike Brillembourg.
As far as the choirs and orchestras are concerned, the honours are even. Both conductors; Temirkanov is the better bet, but the competition is stiff.
Musicweb International, March 2010
That Yuri Temirkanov is amongst the finest living Russian conductors is not much in dispute. Like many of his ilk, and despite an extensive studio-recorded discography, it is generally accepted that his interpretations have been best served and commemorated in live recordings. Most of his recorded output has been of the standard Russian repertoire and forays beyond this have been rare, although his credentials as an established interpreter of Verdi have been enhanced by a special performance of the “Requiem” in the Vatican and his appointment as Music Director of the Teatro Regio di Parma.
In a world hardly short of recordings of this most stirring and human of liturgical works, a new Verdi Requiem really needs to be special to make any impact in the established discography. I suppose that I must be familiar with dozens of versions and as such am in danger of being hard to please. However, I was immediately impressed by Temirkanov’s expert pacing of the tentative, descending string figure which opens the work, and the tension generated by his careful phrasing in the choir’s increasingly assertive interpolations. My expectations were further raised by the firm vigour of the soloists’ crucial first few phrases, when each intones in turn a rousing and desperate “Kyrie”, announcing the composer’s intent to assail God with the urgency of their pleas. This sets the tone for the whole work; a good performance instantly crackles with electricity as the voices spiral heavenwards.
None of the soloists here is either especially famous or even necessarily possessed of a major voice but under the direction of a conductor who knows exactly what he is about, they flourish. Despite leaning towards a large-scale, slightly strident, operatic delivery, they succeed in evoking more of a sense of spiritual struggle than a dramatic confrontation. With three Italians soloists each producing the required italianità of tone, the desired impact is there without its descending into an operatic slugfest. About the tenor Alexander Timchenko (previously unknown to me), I remain undecided. As a Russian, he is obviously the odd-man-out and cannot help sounding typically Slavic. There is not much gleam in his grainy, plaintive tenor but he sounds as if he believes what he is singing, phrases musically, and his soft singing in the “Hostias” is really ethereal and moving. A tendency to sing “Kyri-hey” is regrettable, although no less an artist than Carlo Bergonzi is guilty of the same fault in his otherwise estimable performance under Leinsdorf. In addition to my reservations regarding the tenor, I note that there is a little too much vibrancy bordering on a wobble in Veronica Simeoni’s mezzo-soprano, and indeed in Carmen Gianattasio’s ample soprano, too, but they certainly carry dramatic conviction. Their voices blend compellingly in both the “Recordare” and the “Agnus Dei”, where Temirkanov adopts quite daringly slow speeds and allows them to indulge in the full operatic panoply of portamento, swoop and glide. Similarly, Colombara is a sincere artist despite his rather soft-grained bass failing to generate the massive authority of say, Ghiaurov or Siepi. He wobbles in the “Oro supplex” and is perhaps the least impressive of all four soloists here despite having a proven track record as the bass in the successful Naxos bargain set recorded as long ago as 1996. Nonetheless, together the vocal quartet makes an impressive team and share a real sense of commitment.
The same commitment shown by the singers is evident in the chorus; Temirkanov has them sing with real passion and abandonment and even copies Colin Davis’s trick of having them almost whisper “Quando judex est venturus”, which some find melodramatic. I rather like it. For the most part, I find his direction unerring in its judgement, except for one crucial point: the opening of the “Offertorio”. Too many conductors begin lugubriously and fail to build the momentum required to ensure that the music takes off and soars when we come to the “Quam olim Abrahae”. Once again, it falters and stalls here, thus constituting the only major blot on the set – but, in my judgement, a damaging one, as this movement is to me the emotional centre of this great work. However, Temirkanov makes amends in the last movement, where the soprano soloist and chorus produce a thrilling climax despite the odd clumsy moment from her.
This is the first of a new series of live recordings from Signum Records, prompted by the refurbishment of the Grand Philharmonic Hall which is the home venue of the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. The advantages of a live performance are much in evidence, despite the odd cough and grunt, and the occasional surprise such as a man’s voice muttering during the magical “Sed signifier sanctus Michael” – the conductor, perhaps? – the sound is excellent and was apparently made on new state-of-the-art recording equipment installed in the hall during the renovation.
Subsequent listenings to this set have taught me to appreciate its full-blooded virtues. It is up against tough competition, from recent sonic blockbusters such as Pappano’s new recording on EMI with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. The soloists in both these recent versions suffer in comparison with those on classic recordings such as those conducted by Reiner, Bernstein, De Sabata or, above all, Karajan in his La Scala recording (currently available only on DVD) with the incomparable team of Price, Cossotto, Pavarotti and Ghiaurov, all in their young prime. An outright recommendation for this most -recorded of masterpieces is impossible, but Temirkanov’s seems to me to be an honest, passionate and very enjoyable, top-second-rank version which will appeal particularly to admirers of the conductor and his St Petersburg forces.
The Gramophone, March 2010
Temirkanov brings the dark side of Verdi’s masterpiece to the fore
The darker side of Verdi suits the Russian mood. La Scala itself would be hard-pressed to offer more appropriately sounded and coloured singing and playing than that provided here by the Mikhailovsky Theatre Chorus, with its dark-toned Russian basses, or the St Petersburg Philharmonic itself. Think of this orchestra under Mravinsky or Temirkanov in Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique and you will realize how apt to the Requiem its special sound quality is. Temirkanov has his own special affinity with aspects of the Verdi style. (Shortly after his 70th birthday, he became music director of Parma’s Teatro Regio.) His soloists are mainly Italian. The bass Carlo Colombara has already distinguished himself on Morandi’s fine 1997 Naxos recording of the Requiem. The mezzo role is generally well done on record and Veronica Simeoni is no exception. The much-talked-about Carmen Giannattasio I found less consistent. Though she can conjure line and pure tone, there are occasions when there is an unpleasing beat in alt. The Russian tenor Alexander Timchenko sings the “Hostias” exquisitely in a hushed undertone much as the young Nicolai Gedda might have done. He also gives a sensitive account of the “Ingemisco”, though the narrowing of the tone under pressure on the high B flat suggests a tenore di grazia at the limit of his current reach.
The recording comes in a series devoted to the St Petersburg orchestra, which may explain the drably worked booklet which mentions the soloists and choir only on the front cover. The performance, we are told, was given on March 2, 2009, to inaugurate the “recording studio” of the Great Philharmonic Hall. Whatever that is, the sound has focus, clarity and stereophonic breadth, though I doubt whether this is a single unedited live performance.
Under Temirkanov, sober respect for text and music is the order of the day. The result is a scrupulously prepared performance that is devout without taint of religiosity, considered but never dull. Those who shy away from what they take to be the work’s excessive theatricality may well find it to their taste.
International Record Review, March 2010
There are those who complain that this Requiem Mass which Verdi composed in honour of the writer Alessandro Manzoni, whom the composer greatly admired, even revered, is too operatic. Keep it to yourselves, but if I were to side with Verdi or the views, the carping even, of some critics professional and amateur, I should choose Verdi. The fervour of a black congregation praising Cod with cries of ‘Halleluia’ is just as sincere as the quiet, restrained worship of the Plymouth Brethren. Alan BIyth, in Opera on Record 3 (Hutchinson; 1984), used the terms ‘dramatic’ and ‘devotional’ to describe the two approaches to Verdi’s work. Whichever opinion one holds, is it not still a magnificent composition?
In the early 1950s, those varying interpretations were well represented by the DG set of Ferenc Fricsay and the Victor/HMV of Arturo Toscanini respectively. Since those days, many recordings have been produced in both camps. This new version from Signum, inaugurating the recording studio of the St Petersburg Philharmonic, turns some way from operatic flamboyance, which does not mean that dullness takes over. That is far from the case. Sensitivity makes its mark on many occasions, be it from soloists, choir or orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov’s intelligent direction, but a blazing ardour smites the listener in the more unbridled numbers, like ‘Dies irae’ and ‘Libera me’.
The Mikhailovsky Theatre Chorus is magnificent. I do not know how many people were in its ranks, but the singing is so full of zeal and passion that one fancies that the dead have risen to add their voices to those of the living to warn of the day of wrath. The wonderful orchestra, formerly the Leningrad Philharmonic of course, is equally exciting. Both benefit from a fine recording, with microphones seemingly well placed.
The solo voices also come across clearly, not dispatched without focus to the outer regions and spreading like a bushfire. The clarity is apparent whether one is listening to loudspeakers or through headphones. The four singers form an accomplished and highly enjoyable quartet, together or on their own.
Carmen Giannattasio, heard in some Opera Rara Issues, has a full-toned, rich-hued voice with a lush middle. Like her colleagues, she holds to a good line. I do like her sound. More questionable, maybe, is her strong vibrato in upper regions. For me, it is just on the acceptable side of a dividing line, but some will no doubt place it on the other side. It is noticeable mostly in ‘Libera me’. In a longer career, of about 20 years, Carlo Colombara has already recorded Verdi’s Requiem (Naxos 8.550944/5). His tone flows out and with a touch of make-believe one can imagine reclining in its plushness. He is not a one-volume vocalist, as listening to his opening of ‘Confutatis’ will show.
It is always a pleasure to make the acquaintance of a singer who creates a good initial impression. Such a one is the mezzo Veronica Simeoni, of whom I know nothing except that I would like to hear more from her. She has an easy emission of a smooth tone which meets with no difficulties at either extreme of her part. What operatic experience has she had? Some of the most sensitive singing, with contrasting dynamics comes from Alexander Timchenko, whom until now I had heard only in small roles in opera, like Pang (Turandot) and Galitsin’s messenger (Khovanshchina), when the Kirov visited Covent Garden in 1995. His beginning of the ‘Hostias’ quartet here is impressive in Its quietness. Do not expect from him the Otello lone of Cossutta or Domingo, for Timchenko’s lyric tenor is a considerably lighter instrument.
In the I I-page booklet, four are devoted to Verdi, Manzoni and the Requiem’s origins, two and-a-half to the orchestra, two to Temirkanov, none to the Singers (hence I still know nothing about Simeoni). It does not include the texts. Do not, however, allow the booklet to play more than a tiny part in a decision regarding a set which should find immediate entry to the premier division of the league of Requiem recordings.