Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiema.

Gian Carlo MENOTTI (b 1911)

The Death of the Bishop of Brindisib.

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

Gurre-Liederc – Interlude; Song of the Wood-Dove.

aBirgit Nilsson (soprano); Lili Chookasian (mezzo); aCarlo Bergonzi (tenor); aEzio Flagello, bGeorge London (basses); aBoston Pro Musica; bNew England Conservatory Chorus; bMembers of the Catholic Memorial and St. Joseph’s High School Glee Clubs; Boston Symphony Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf.
Recorded October a5th-6th, 1964 and April 5th, 1965, bcOctober 19th, 1964 [ADD]
RCA VICTOR LIVING STEREO 09026 63747-2 [two discs] [130.35]

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Leinsdorf’s reading of Verdi’s mighty Requiem is a fascinating but ultimately flawed document. Recorded in 1964/5 and issued on RCA SER5537/8, it had to shape up against the impressive credentials of Giulini’s famous and visionary reading with the Philharmonia Orchestra. RCA’s ‘Living Stereo’ recording sounds dated now, to be sure, but there is no doubting the fact that its immediacy adds to the impressive effect, even if the stereo separation is generally too pronounced.

One of the first things which surprises about this performance is that the soloists sound so well matched (try the ‘Quid sum miser’ section of the ‘Dies Irae’, or the exposed octaves in the ‘Agnus Dei’), something one would not immediately expect given such a conglomeration of large vocal personalities. This means that whilst each of them is more than capable of announcing their presence, they work well together for the greater good. Bergonzi’s entrance five minutes in to the first section (‘Reqiuem and Kyrie’) is neither reverential nor religiously fervent. Rather, it is a statement of quasi-operatic intent. Nilsson, entering a little later, is more than happy to match him. Later, she positively relishes the opportunities to float up to the higher registers. Lili Chookasian possesses a creamy mezzo, heard to excellent effect in the ‘Recordare’, where she is truly tender in Verdi’s best fashion.

The Boston Pro Musica Chorus has its work cut out in this piece, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra does not seem in the mood to make any concessions to volume. As a result, there is a hint of strain from the choir in the almighty ‘Dies irae’ as they struggle to rise above the wave of brass (and again in the ‘Tuba mirum’). Overall, there is little serious fault from either soloists or choir. Perhaps where this account falls short is the conductor’s vision. It is like listening to an admittedly very well evoked series of well-paced and always graphically painted dramatic excerpts, rather than a cogent whole that can in the right hands be overwhelming in effect.

The two fillers for the second disc originally made up one LP (RCA SB6609). Indeed, the Menotti may well provide the impetus for the curious at heart to purchase this set. Universally known for Amahl and the Night Visitors, The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi (premiered in 1963) is another piece that centres on the innocence of youth. This time, the Bishop of Brindisi relives the departure of a crusade of children who were intent on reaching the Holy Land to free the Holy City, and their cruel fate. Menotti’s style is effective because of its very simplicity, his harmonies at once appealing and poignant. George London makes an appropriately anguished priest, and the children’s chorus is exceptional.

The rich, lush outpourings of the two excerpts from Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder act as the ideal foil to Menotti’s world. In some ways the Schoenberg is the highlight of the set. Leinsdorf elicits crystal clarity from his forces (no mean feat in this work) and Chookasian reinforces the positive impressions she made in the Requiem. She places her high notes quite beautifully and, impressively, avoids excessive vibrato.

Certainly, despite impressive moments, Leinsdorf’s Verdi Requiem could in no circumstances be a top recommendation. Although it contains much of interest, the Menotti is a fascinating and unusual bonus, and full text is included.


Colin Clarke

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