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Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Requiem (1874) [84.19]
Don Carlos: "Spuntato ecco" [5.13]
Macbeth: Chorus of the Scottish Refugees [5.45]
Otello: "Fuoco di gioia" [2.42]
Nabucco: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves [5.07]
Aïda: "Gloria allíEgitto" [9.29]
Susan Dunn, sop.; Diane Curry, mezzo sop.; Jerry Hadley, tenor; Paul Plishka, bass
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Shaw
Recorded in Symphony Hall, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 14 April 1987.
Notes in English. Complete texts and translations.
TELARC CD80152 [2CDs: 113.15]

Comparison recordings:
Solti, Price, Baker, Luchetti, van Damm, CSO [ADD] RCA 09026 61043-2
Bernstein, Arroyo, Veasey, Domingo, Raimondi, LSO [ADD] Sony 47639

This is a good overall recording of the work, but I canít imagine it being anyoneís favourite. Its greatest strengths are in the recording detail, the orchestral parts against the chorus, the choral sections in the fugal numbers, the steady, unfrenzied presentation. Two stringent requirements for this work are soloists with a sobbing, tearful catch in their voices and a bass drum with a wham that bruises your sternum; this recording has neither. The bass drum is prominent enough, but itís more a tenor than a bass. We also need trumpets scattered all over the auditorium and, consequently, surround sound, and we donít get those either. The soloists are very good, but never approach the brink of losing their dignity.

The one time I saw this work performed the soprano owned a formidably swelling white bosom, framed by a dangerously low cut black gown. She also wore on a chain a single diamond which trembled imperilled on the brink of the canyonesque cleavage. As she sang, she moved her expectantly clasped hands to the right and to the left, her bosom heaved with massive sighs, while her eyes remained fixed firmly upon heaven, so that the spotlight would catch the glitter from the tear in her eye as well as from the tremulous jewel. In other words she understood correctly the theatricality of the work and played it to the hilt. Iíve forgotten a lot of music from those years, but never that evening.

I detect some influence here from Lisztís oratorio Christus, published in 1866, and even more from the Beethoven Missa Solemnis of 1823, and I see these three works as spanning and defining the Nineteenth Century religious aesthetic, having no obvious antecedents (Okay, the Haydn Masses and Oratorios) and no obvious offspring (Okay, maybe the Britten War Requiem), the Twentieth Century having little interest in symphonic masses. I donít hear the Berlioz or Mozart Requiems or even the Rossini religious works fitting into this sequence.

Often in my reviews I give unreserved praise to a recording with somewhat reserved emotionality, for the reason that in a work with interesting structure too much frenzy can obscure important details and balances (i.e., Yablonsky versus Gergiev in Alexander Nevsky). But this work has its heart on its sleeve from the first note, and the more frenzy the better. There isnít any interesting structure to be obscured, just heavy tunes and masses of dramatic sound to bathe in, a work tailor-made for Leonard Bernstein and digital DVD-Audio or SACD surround sound. Two out of three ainít bad: Bernsteinís recording was originally made in quadrophonic sound, but it was in ordinary analogue. Never mind, his bass drum sounds like itís 40 feet (12192 mm) across with hydraulically powered striker and his chorus may not be Robert Shawís but theyíre very, very good and much more committed. Where is the Sony multi-channel analogue SACD surround sound version? Come on, guys! There is also a film of this performance, currently out of print, but the sound would most likely not be very good compared to any CD.

The opera choruses are very well performed, more precisely than you usually hear them in the opera house, but with somewhat less drama. Or maybe itís just that presented out of context they lose too much of their identity. Since national anthems were only invented in the second half of the eighteenth century, Verdiís attempt to give Ancient Egypt a national anthem remains an unappreciated anachronism. In 1979 the Egyptians adopted as their anthem "Misr Ya Umm Al Bilad" ("Egypt! O mother of all lands") with words and music by Sayed Darwish (1892-1923) thereby passing "Gloria allí Egitto" completely by. Maybe it was the elephantsí obbligato.

Paul Shoemaker

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