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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Magnificat R. 611 [21:32]
Gloria R. 589 [29:37]
Teresa Berganza, mezzo-soprano
Lucia Valentini Terrani, contralto
New Philharmonia Chorus/Norbert Balatsch
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
Recorded October and November 1978 and June 1977 ADD
Great Recordings of the Century series
EMI CLASSICS 66987 [51:24]


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This is the second choral recording from the Great Recordings of the Century series to cross my desk in the last few weeks, and I regret to inform the public, that they are not getting any better. I think perhaps it is time for the producers of this line to reconsider their promotional material and just call these discs "tired old recordings".

To the hapless church choir baritone who needs a study recording of the famous Vivaldi Gloria this might seem like a logical choice. An instantly recognizable conductor, famous soloists and a big name orchestra should make for a grand slam, right? I am afraid that instead we have a shutout, and Vivaldi is the loser. Sigh.

Perhaps in 1978 when this issue first hit the streets, it would have passed for a somewhat informed performance. After all, the period instrument movement was still relatively young, and our ears were not completely accustomed to the sound of baroque music performed in a seventeenth century style as opposed to a nineteenth. And, one is to admire a big star conductor like Riccardo Muti for putting aside the Brahms and Beethoven for a go at some earlier fare. But was it really necessary to disguise Vivaldi in Verdi’s clothing?

So after all that, I suppose I should relate the ills of this performance. Let us begin with the soloists. Now, Teresa Berganza is no slouch of a singer to be sure, and I myself have given her raves in this very forum for recordings of music that are suited to her talents. This music is not. Her machine gun vibrato and sloppy coloratura are a true detriment. The singing is so heavy in places that she is unable to complete phrases that any Emma Kirkby or Evelyn Tubb could sing in a single breath with a gallon of air to spare. Lucia Valentini Terrani fares little better, and in the lower portion of her range sounds like a caricature and not a serious artist.

The choir, which in truth does not play all that important a role in these pieces sings well in tune and their enunciation is clear enough, but they are entirely too large a group to sing this music with any effectiveness. Combine them with the stand-heavy New Philharmonia and the result is lugubrious and turgid, with tempi erring far to the slow side, and an over legato approach to articulation that fairly murders the style.

Program notes are quite informative from history’s view, but one senses trouble when the entire last paragraph is an apology for the dated nature of the performance, complete with a couple of notable movements highlighted as "saving graces". Sound quality is acceptable but not spectacular.

Frankly, we do not need this recording. It has been long surpassed by specialists in the repertoire and this performance will serve to confuse the unenlightened and infuriate the informed. Perhaps it was fine for its day, but its day has long passed and it is time for this one to be retired and stop taking up valuable shelf space.

Kevin Sutton

Great Recordings of the Century

 



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