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Len Mullenger:

(1813 - 1901)
I vespri siciliani: Overture 8.50
Messa de Requiem 85.42
Amy Shuard (sop); Anna Reynolds (mez); Richard Lewis (ten); David Ward (bass); Philharmonia Orchestra, Philharmonia Chorus.

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797 -1828)
Mass in E Flat Major. D 950 56.33
Anne Pashley (sop); Sybil Michelow (cont); David Hughes (ten 1); Duncan Robertson (ten 2); William McCue (bass). Scottish Festival Chorus, New Philharmonia Orchestra. Carlo Maria Giulini
Recorded: Royal Albert Hall:- Aug 7 1963 (I vespri siciliani); Royal Albert Hall:- Aug 5 1963 (Requiem) Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Aug 31 1968 (Schubert) BBC BBCL 4029-2 CD1 75.06 CD2 77.31

This is a well filled double CD offering from the BBC that uses performances from the Proms and the Edinburgh Festival of the 1960's. The connecting link between the concerts is, of course, the conducting of Maestro Giulini in two major works close to his heart. The whole makes a splendid package that has an unqualified recommendation.

Verdi was not a believer, hence his Requiem does not have the soul-baring intensity that one would hear from other great composers works who were writing from the depths of their faith. What it does have is a dramatic, theatrical power I have heard described as "the best opera Verdi never wrote". Just listen, for example, to the Recordare and try to put religious connotations out of your mind as you do.

The Royal Albert Hall and the Verdi Requiem are suited to each other. The Philharmonia Chorus is heard at its magnificent best in a recording that is just about right in its balancing act - the Chorus is marginally favoured in the big acoustic, yet the big orchestral moments make their mark without perhaps making the impact those in the RAH might have heard. And what a Chorus it was in those days. Big, masses of power, with a homogeneity that shows hours of hard work in rehearsal, sensitive and responsive to the slightest of nuances in the score.

The choice of soloists for this Prom was interesting. Each of the four, a very fine all British quartet, was an acknowledged operatic singer used to projecting his/her voice in large-scale works. For the listener this allowed the natural balance to be heard without the manipulation that sometimes happens in a studio recording.

Giulini has a reputation, not altogether justified, for slowing down pieces and for 'relaxed' tempi. I can only say that at the opening bars of the Kyrie one is aware of the slow pace. Then that awareness is absorbed in the feeling that the choice of tempi, though broad throughout, is a valid one and is 'right on the night'. Speeds never drag which is surely a major consideration.

In a coherent whole, it is perhaps not fair to mention particular special moments but one cannot avoid mention of a outstanding Rex Tremendae with the full Chorus juxtaposed with the four soloists and its gentle ending closing amen. The Dies Irae passages made a great impact and the beauties of the Lacrymosa stay in the memory. This performance took place some months after Giulini's justly famous EMI recording of the Requiem and, from memory only - with no comparison disc to hand - this offering doesn't sound too much like a poor relation. The other Prom work, The Sicilian Vespers, was given a splendidly full-blooded performance.

The source of the Schubert Mass recording is Edinburgh five years later. Same orchestra (with slight name change) and another different but equally magnificent Chorus. Again, one was quickly aware of a measured, but right-sounding choice of tempi throughout. The balance between Orchestra and Choir was exemplary, and the tapes captured it.

The Schubert Mass is an intense, deeply involving work a world away from Verdi's colourful masterpiece. The work makes fewer calls on the soloists and most of its impact and effect depends upon the choir. It needs to be balanced, responsive, able to convey its feelings in the quiet passages, yet with power and subtlety when needed . The Scottish Chorus had all of these skills. In a reading which was a delight especially noteworthy were the first use of the soloists in Et incarnatus est with the dramatic outburst massed voices of which followed, and the extended contrapuntal passages in Et rexurrexit when the clarity of diction was exemplary.

The extra frisson which a live performance gives is apparent and the bane of live recordings - audience noise - is not a problem. Applause is included but not allowed to run too long. What a pity that the excellent notes by Alan Blyth were not extended to allow the text to be included, at the very least in Latin.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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