GERGIEV conducts Berlioz / Verdi Requiem

BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. La Mort de Cléopâtre.
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano; Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS SACD 470 632 TT: 72:21 (5.1 channel)

VERDI: Messa da Requiem
Renée Fleming, sopran; Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano; Andrea Bocelli, tenor; Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, bass; Kirov Chorus and Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS DVD AUDIO B0001571-19 TT: 84:32
(5.1 channel)

Gerviev and the Vienna Philharmonic give a splendid performance of Symphonie fantastique. The Death of Cleopatra is a dramatic "lyric scene" written in 1819 describing "an Egyptian queen who has been bitten by a poisonous snake and is dying a painful death in an agony of remorse." Mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, now at the peak of her career, is magnificent in this performance, a very appropriate coupling for the symphony. The Vienna Philharmonic is at its best and this recording, from live performances in May 2003 in Vienna's Musikverein is superb sonically, more natural in sound than the same conductor and orchestra's recording of Pictures at an Exhibition recorded in April 2000 (see REVIEW). Text/translation are provided for Cléopåtre.

It seems rather odd Philips would release this recording of Verdi's Requiem on DVD Audio instead of SACD (although perhaps they will issue it in that format later). When listening to it, after selecting on-screen preferences, during the performance we see selected photographs of the artists—this is not a filmed performance. I find these photos quite distracting. Gergiev is well-known for his ventures into Verdi repertory and we have the expected extremes of tempo that seem to be his trademark. In its way, this is a highly dramatic interpretation, with Gergiev's Kirov Orchestra and Chorus in sterling form. Renée Fleming and Olga Borodina are glorious, and young bass Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, who has a distinctive list of recordings to his credit (including Don Carlos with Haitink, I Lombardi and Rigoletto with Levine), holds his own in such august company. Unfortunately, tenor Andrea Bocelli does not. He seems to have no idea what this music is about, croons most of it and often his pitch is suspect. His legion of admirers may welcome this, but Bocelli's participation is a definite minus to this production. For the audio minded, this is a knock-out of a recording. The multi-channel sound is superior to the two-channel issue, admirably capturing the acoustics of All Hallows, Gospel Oak, with soloists are nicely balanced. Bass-drum thwacks in Dies irae are impressive indeed. Text and English translation are provided.

R.E.B. (April 2004)