Riccardo Muti / Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Verdi: Messa da Requiem

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This release by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is taken from a trio of live performances on successive days in January 2009. It has met with both critical and commercial success, and for good reason. Verdi's Messa da Requiem, finished in 1873 and dedicated to the memory of writer Alessandro Manzoni, is one of the most difficult works in the entire classical repertory to perform. It's not that any individual aspect is so challenging, but the work requires top-flight soloists, choir, and orchestra, as well as a conductor who can keep it all together. This recording delivers on nearly all counts, and at many points the effect is thrilling. Conductor Riccardo Muti likely cemented his position at the helm of the Chicago Symphony with his skillful handling of the orchestra's fabled brass section, deployed in vivid contrast between loud and soft that never lose their precision. The mighty Dies Irae has very rarely had the blast-furnace intensity that it does here, with the superb Chicago Symphony Chorus delivering great power without any deviation from the pitch. If there's a less compelling aspect here, it's the set of soloists, who are fine but not in the Pavarotti or Sutherland class. Still, they're all capable of carrying Muti's long lines in the slower sections, and, when you factor in the fine, clear Super Audio sound from the symphony's own CSO-Resound label, this becomes a very hard Verdi Requiem to beat.

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