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John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Throw out the ’43 Toscanini. John Eliot Gardiner’s take on Verdi’s Requiem isn’t just for the dead, it’s enough to wake the dead. This recording, the first ever on period instruments, is blood-curdling stuff: It sounds like Sweeney Todd is holding the baton. The Monteverdi Choir’s performance is unapologetically operatic, rightly so given the composer’s anti-clerical sentiments, and Anne Sofie von Otter attacks the mezzo con tutta forza in a wrenching performance (it seems she’s ready to leave Strauss behind and take on Verdi’s operatic heavies). The opening “Dies irae” descends like a vocal hurricane, with the same power that Verdi brought to the choral opening of his next composition, Otello, some 13 years later. Gardiner’s Requiem is death as drama.