Written in 1874 to commemorate the death of the writer Allesandro Manzoni, the Verdi Requiem has more in common with opera than liturgy. It was the only composition published during the composer's self-imposed ten-year retirement between the premiere of Aida and the revision of Simon Boccanegra and the start of the composer's collaboration with Arrigo Boito.
There are passages that recall and even exceed the great beauties of Verdi's mature operas, and moments when the composer allowed his gifts to run wild in the realms of choral writing and counterpoint.
Mr. Muti excels as an opera conductor, especially in the works of Verdi. That experience serves him well in the Requiem. He starts slowly with the opening Requiem aeternum. In the Dies Irae, he whips his forces into a frenzy and drives the orchestra forward into a devastating recreation of the last trumpets and the Day of Judgment. The orchestra responds superbly, working hand-in-hand with the chorus to turn this Requiem into a thrilling ride.
He armed with a solid quartet of vocal soloists. Olga Borodina is in fine voice here, her mezzo showing bloom and warmth. Her husband, Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov is solid, with a black timbre to his voice that sounds like the wrath of God. Soprano Barbara Frittoli leads off the Lux Aeterna with a soaring vocal line that sounds just as it should: otherworldly. The only caveat is the performance of tenor Mario Zeffiri. He has a pleasant, smallish voice and does not project enough force.
This recording was scheduled for release to commemorate Mr. Muti's first term as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Although the conductor was forced to withdraw from the Fall season in Chicago for health reasons (he was suffering from a stomach ailment brought on by exhaustion), this is an indication that the future partnership between maestro and orchestra will be a fruitful one. Hopefully it will also lead to more recordings like this one.