> Verdi - Requiem [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Requiem Mass (1874)
Rosamund Illing, soprano, Bernadette Cullen, mezzo-soprano, Dennis O’Neill, tenor, Bruce Martin, bass, Opera Australia Chorus, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra/Simone Young
Recorded live Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, January 22nd, 24th 2001
ABC Classics 472 430-2 [78:06]


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Live performances have to be very, very good if they are to be worth marketing as CDs (unless of course they are intended for a special restricted market – family, friends etc - which is a different matter). So this recording really need not detain us for long, as it is a performance which may have been fine live, even quite exciting, but doesn’t really pass muster as a commercial recording, especially when the work concerned is such a celebrated and justly popular one.

Balance is a problem, with soloists uncomfortably close; this emphasises the rather metallic quality of Rosamund Illing’s voice, despite her undoubted feel for the drama of the music. Some of her high notes are really quite painfully harsh, though I feel this is in large part due to the recording balance. Dennis O’Neill, a singer for whom I have enormous respect, is another who seems ill-served; indeed I wonder if he was happy about this issue, as it presents him in far from his best light. The mezzo-soprano soloist, Bernadette Cullen, sings with commitment, while bass Bruce Martin is easily the most convincing of the soloists, with enough darkness in his voice, but plenty of lyrical feel for the music too. As a quartet, these four have their problems; for example, as so often, the unaccompanied passage in the Lacrimosa (track 10 2:45) is virtually atonal, as is a similar moment towards the end of the Offertorium.

The predominance of the soloists means that much orchestral detail is hard to pick out. The off-stage brass in the Tuba Mirum (track 3) are pretty well inaudible, particularly when the whole choir and orchestra pitch in. And the very opening of the piece - ’cellos soli - is so soft that you have to adjust the volume to its highest setting simply to hear it, only to get blasted out of your seat later on!

The choir, too, have some problems getting across, which is not surprising if the booklet is to be believed, as it describes the Opera Australia Chorus as consisting of just forty-eight voices, which makes this work very hard going for them. However, there is no doubt about the quality of their voices, and their singing of the treacherous fugue in the Libera me (track 19, 0:20) is impressively accurate and energetic.

Simone Young directs with passionate commitment, and a sense of the drama of ‘Verdi’s greatest opera’. Yet her creditable desire not to let the tension drop leads to some uncomfortable moments, particularly in the lovely Salva me section of the Dies Irae (track 6, 0:25), where soloists really need space and time for their soaring phrases.

This CD will revive memories of what was probably a very special occasion for performers and audience like; as a commercial recording, it isn’t really a competitor.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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