Let me tell you
Stratospheric Barbara Hannigan
Birmingham and BBC Proms
One to treasure
One of the
Book and CD
Book + 4CDs
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Messa de Requiem (1874) [80.44]
Varady (soprano); Felicity Palmer (mezzo); Keith Olsen
(tenor); Roberto Scandiuzzi (bass)
Orfeón Donostiarra Choir
Toulouse Capitole Orchestra/Michel Plasson
rec. Eglise Notre-Dame La Daurade, Toulouse, 2-5 July 1996.
DDD. EMI CLASSICS 56459 [67.31
is a recording that would seem to hold out much promise when
one reads the details on paper: a reputable orchestra under
their chief conductor, who has a flair for large-scale pieces,
an often-recorded choir, and a quartet of notable solo vocalists.
Alas, quickly it became apparent for me that this that would
not fully live up to those expectations. It is a somewhat
mixed affair, and that can be attributed to a couple of individual
factors. Let me temper this subdued opening with the ever-present
consideration of personal taste: what I specifically dislike
others may find appealing. So keep reading, one and all.
if you will, that you are to conduct Verdi’s Requiem Mass.
The central question that defines any performance is this:
is it to be a “reverential” performance or an “operatic” one?
Any conductor must decide broadly where they stand and convince
their performers to take a similar path. Plasson’s preference
is for a reverential performance, which is to say it’s one
that brings out much of the religious impetus behind the
music. Of course, the work has its moments of near-operatic
drama no matter how it’s performed, but these take second
place in the order of priorities.
opening Requiem is affecting in its tenderness, but when
the four-part chorus opens up to a mezzo-forte the
Achilles heel of the recording is revealed: too much reverberation
intrudes from the Eglise Notre-Dame La Daurade. At full forte this
is a performance that gives the work with the broadest of
gestures. The Dies Irae finds the choir hitting the
notes, but even the keenest ears would be hard pushed to
distinguish any of the words they sing for some of the time.
The bass drum sounds like it’s placed in a cavernous recess,
rather than belting forth for all it is worth, as Muti’s
1979 EMI recording has it doing. You feel the terror of Judgement
Day in no uncertain terms there. Even though Plasson uses
the atmosphere well with for the Tuba Mirum, he still
makes less impact than Muti, whose achievement is increased
by more incisive pacing and better playing. It’s pretty much
the same with Muti’s later live recording for EMI also – recorded
in Teatro all Scala, it suffers few of the acoustic problems
that afflict Plasson. Those that know the work can easily
foretell the points when their imagination will be needed
to fill in textural clarity that even a thirty year old studio
recording provides with ease: Sanctus, Libera Me, … Even
the classic Giulini studio set sounds a bit dated (1963/4)
but it wants for little in terms of focus at such moments.
Other live recordings from 1961 and 1963 also
offer similar focus at crucial times. Final small gripe about
the conducting: just occasionally rests are felt where none
are written: Libera Me, first chorus entry. Momentary
though they are, they detract from the drama and musical
two good, two not so good. Julia Varady sings with commitment
and precision throughout. The voice is caught in excellent
shape, even if she can open up the tone a little too readily
above mezzo-forte. That said, it’s hard to avoid doing
so given what the soloist is asked to sing – particularly
in the Libera Me. Varady floats and blends her voice
well with her colleagues also – her tone does not quite have
the edge of Scotto (earlier Muti) or quite the opulence of
Studer (later Muti).
contrast Felicity Palmer can sound something of a harridan,
which is most unfortunate, because she is anything but that
when heard live in my experience. The Liber scriptus is
a bit too insistent, whereas the Recordare comes off
with more subtlety.
Olsen is not an Italianate tenor. He’s as far from Gigli
(Serafin 1939 on EMI or Naxos
Historical) or Pavarotti (later Muti) as one could imagine.
His thin, hard tones do him few favours in such company – and
much less so when Helge Rosvaenge (Karajan, 1948 on Preisler)
and Carlo Cossutto (Karajan, 1975 on DG) are the comparisons.
Alagna for Abbado has a brave stab at the part.
the time of making this recording, Roberto Scandiuzzi was
in his prime as a bass. Therefore, he’s an asset – or at
least he would be if the acoustic did not do so much to undermine
his performance. In the Confutatis maledictis and
elsewhere he’s lost in a sea of ambient fog which robs him
of presence and authority. Pinza (Serafin 1939) remains the
touchstone for many, me included; though Nesterenko for Muti
(1979) runs him a close second in the authority stakes.
the good intentions at the heart of this set, whichever way
one examines it the results simply do not deliver enough
to secure a recommendation.
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