VERDI: Messa da Requiem. Daniel Barenboim conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala, Milan; with Anja Harteros, soprano; Elina Garanca, mezzo-soprano; Jonas Kaufmann, tenor and René Pape, bass. Decca B0018946-02: two CDs.
This is a superb performance that has the attendant hazards of a concert recording — the various shades of pianissimo in the opening Requiem aeternam are deftly handled by Barenboim, and they are never so pianissimo as to be borderline inaudible, which is very crucial in this music. In the very opening measures, audience noise (at first blush) seems to threaten the serenity (for want of a better word) of the musical progression, but it doesn’t. Sometimes the choral diction, which is uniformly precise, can be too exaggerated for comfort (as in the rolled rs in the word Requiem in the opening section, which in the context of the essay in mostly piano dynamics that this piece is, can sound more like noise than a consonant before the vowel effect). The soloists are all magnificent, with the strongest contributions seeming to come from Messrs. Kaufmann and Pape — clearly evident from the Kyrie onward. This work, coming at the start of Verdi’s seventh decade, marks a high plateau in his evolution both as a musical dramatist — even though it is not an opera —- and as a lyrical composer. All of those values are admirably delineated in this performance, one of the more eminently satisfactory recorded performances of the Requiem to emerge in a while.
The Dies Irae is the terror it’s supposed to be. Barenboim admirably goes for maximum clarity, with every strand of musical sound — vocal and instrumental alike — brought to the fore, and aided in no small measure by superb audio engineering. The opening Dies Irae is a choral piece, and the chorus fulfils its part admirably. The stereo imaging of the brass in the Tuba mirum is at once subtle and electric. Pape does a magnificent job in Mors stupebit, stretching dynamics to almost beyond the limits. Mezzo Elina Garanca has an admirable range of dynamics and vocal color in Liber scriptus. As a complement to this, the choral and instrumental shadings are no less impressive. Garanca, soprano Anja Harteros and tenor Kaufmann form a most expressive partnership. Kaufmann’s exquisite tenderness in the phrase salva me, taken up by the chorus (in Rex tremendae and Recordare, which dovetails it — which effectually mark a halfway point in the Sequence), is melting. In the latter, the full strength of the female soloists is markedly evident for the first time. This is vocal chamber music and dramatic music in the highest sense of both.
Kaufmann has a wonderful baritone range—his whole gamut is shown to enormous advantage in Ingemisco. The balance which Barenboim achieves in this section of the Sequence is no less remarkable. The amazing range of the orchestra — probably not a characteristic of the Scala ensembles of the distant past — is exhilaratingly scary in Confutatis, in which René Pape matches it fully in variety of mood and dynamics. That cannot be said enough of, too, in the transition from Confutatis and a reprise of the initial Dies Irae to Lacrimosa. Here, the buildup to the underpinning of the bass drum is more clearly defined than in any recordings of this work this reviewer can remember.
The Offertory (Domine Jesu and Hostias) uses the soloists, by themselves, as a kind of chamber choir; this performance uses the lower strings as a foil to them to great advantage. Kaufmann’s beginning Hostias sounds like something from another world, and the orchestra plays with uncommon expressivity. The Sanctus is appropriately blazing, and the chorus is definitely not the indifferent Scala chorus of sixty-plus years ago. In the Agnus Dei, the soloists again function as a chamber choir, unaccompanied at first. The choral handling of the grace notes is very subtle but remarkable, sometimes a fraction of a second apart from the orchestra, but this clearly demonstrates that the chorus isn’t “leaning” on anybody. The strings in Dona nobis — the violins going up to the stratosphere — never overpower the chorus, and the choral blending is superb.
The near-the-bridge playing of the violins at the beginning of Lux aeterna is nothing short of magical. The whole of Libera me, with its final reprise of the Dies Irae, is on a consistently high dramatic level. The chorus gives a forceful performance in the fugue. It is a great credit to all involved, most conspicuously soprano Harteros.
MARCEL TYBERG: Symphony No. 2 in f minor (1927). JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Piano Sonata No. 2 in f-sharp minor (1934). Fabio Bidini, piano. Naxos 8.572822.
Marcel Tyberg (1893-1944) grew up in Vienna, and into a family of musicians (his father was a violinist). Among his first and closest friends was Rafael Kubelik. When Marcel’s father died in 1927, he and his mother moved to Abbazia (in Italy in those days; it’s now called Opatija, and is in Croatia), where he held down a variety of musical jobs. He composed prolifically. He did everything from church music to dance music. His second symphony offered here, which Kubelik is known to have conducted in the ‘30s (with the Czech Philharmonic), sounds almost like Bruckner at the beginning. It was one of several manuscripts (the others were two Mass settings, two other symphonies, songs and chamber music) that Tyberg entrusted to Dr. Milan Mihich of Laurana, near Abbazia. His son, Dr. Enrico Mihich, a cancer specialist in Buffalo, N.Y., alerted JoAnn Falletta to these manuscripts. She examined them and determined to bring them to life. This recording is a fulfillment of that promise.
Tyberg himself was a Holocaust victim. The beginning of the end was his mother’s incautious revelation that her great-grandfather was a Jew (the Germans required all citizens to divulge even remote Jewish ancestry). Not long after this, Tyberg’s mother died; he himself was seized by the Nazis a few weeks later. He is reported to have died aboard a deportation train bound for Germany, perhaps for Auschwitz; some say his death was a suicide. The date of his death has been ascertained to have been December 31, 1944, which would more likely place him in a concentration camp. The truth will probably never be known.
Marcel Tyberg was a nineteenth-century composer who lived in the twentieth. The Symphony and the piano sonata presented on this recording show it. His handling of form and style are wholly professional, and these works cannot be called derivative in any sense. Falletta shows herself at one with the composer, her tenderness and the great sensitivity of the Buffalo strings are memorable in the slow movement. The Brucknerian spirit and tone hold their own through the Scherzo, but in the finale (a prelude and fugue) he goes back to Bach. The Prelude still retains the Bruckner accent, perhaps tinged with melancholy; the fugue is more affirmative and aggressive, but dark-hued in its orchestration. It has a delectable episode with oboe and flute solos, but the Bachian aggression comes back soon enough, punctuated by timpani and then brass. It winds up dominating the movement and bringing it to an exhilarating coda. The major mode finally overcomes the minor and the fury of the percussion department is unleashed.
The f-sharp minor sonata of 1934 is no less compelling. It is staggering that a man nearly twenty years the junior of Arnold Schoenberg and eight years the junior of Alban Berg not only had his heart in the nineteenth century, but spoke the language with the fluency of one who had actually been there. There is an almost Brahmsian contest between “busy-ness” and lyricism in the opening Allegro con fuoco. The assured handling of form and idiom again rules out derivativeness. The opening of the Adagio seems to resemble late Beethoven. It isn’t. This is the work of a mature composer, a man of forty or forty-one. He may speak the language of another time, but he knows what to say and how to say it. He has a wonderful grasp of the idiom of the piano, and the young Italian-born pianist Fabio Bidini—-who now teaches in Berlin—is a persuasive and forceful advocate for the composer. A photo of Tyberg, taken in the last year of his life, reveals a strikingly attractive man with dark eyes. Marcel Tyberg was born January 27, 1893—-exactly 137 years to the day after Mozart.
The Scherzo (Allegro vivace, sempre assai energico) seems almost like an extrapolation of how Bruckner might have sounded had he been a pianist. The Finale, in the form of an introduction and allegro, gives at the outset just a hint that its composer was a man who lived in the twentieth century; the introduction is brief, and the Allegro non troppo, ma sempre con passione is quickly launched on its way. Romanticism is always the dominant language and flavor.
This is an extraordinary document of a forgotten composer. It is hoped that Naxos will have a Tyberg series. A look into the man’s eyes in the 1944 image, as well as a look into his music, seems to say that here’s a man worth knowing.