Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Giovanni SGAMBATI (1841-1914)
Messa da Requiem op.38 (1895-1905)
Joern Wilsing (bar)
Joachim Schall (violin)
Philharmonischer Chor Heilbronn
Mitglieder des Staatsorchesters Stuttgart/Ulrich Walddörfer
rec Stadtkirche Schwaigern, Stuttgart, 1990. DDD
CARUS 83.121 [79.21]


Carus-Verlag Stuttgart
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An Italian grand requiem written around the axle of the 19th and 20th centuries might almost be predictable. It will be operatic. It will doff the hat to Verdi. It will have its vulgar moments. It will be recorded by an Italian orchestra on an Italian label like Dynamic, Bongiovanni, Aura or Nuova Era. Wrong, in this case, on most counts.

Sgambati was born in Rome, the son of a lawyer and his English wife. Liszt discovered the musically gifted Sgambati but later Wagner also took up his case. There is a piano concerto (1878-80), two overtures and two symphonies of which the first is from 1880. There is also a selection of chamber works including two piano quintets and string quartet. There were no operatic escapades - unusual for an Italian composer of that era.

The Mass is believed to have been written on the death of Vittorio Emmanuele II in 1895 then revised on the death of King Umberto I in 1901. Schotts published the work in 1906, 1908.

Quiet non-belligerent waves of sound surge and roll with the suave smoothness of plainchant. Latinate melodrama is a scarce commodity here. The work's determinedly modest approach reminded me of Josef Foerster's Missa Glagolytica. The colour wheel used by Sgambati is one of pastels - a requiem in aquatints with Elysian overtones as in track 3 where the effect is as if Finzi's Introit had met Fauré's Requiem. Indeed there is a prominent role for a solo violin in Olympian tones which refer back to the Beethoven violin concerto in both the Offertorio and the Agnus Dei (tr.6).

There is, of course, drama as well; we hear this in the Dies Irae (tr.2) where the music seems to stream flames. The Dies Irae is quoted. At this point and in the finale the work echoes, in 19th century weeds, Franz Schmidt's work of the 1930s, The Book of the Seven Seals. It is as if one of Dürer's apocalyptic engravings had sprung to life with the horsemen abroad in the land. In the thudding punched out Osanna in excelsis of the Sanctus (tr.4) we hear more of that dramatic element. It surfaces again in the Libera me (tr.7) where, after the sunless sea of the opening pages, there are blurting fruity trombones and a grunting tuba. The choral writing with its swingingly positive tone at this point calls up memories of Paul Paray's St Joan Mass. Apart from the baritone's insistence on singing lux perpitua rather than the correct lux perpetua his role is carried off with rasp and sonority.

This Choir give an annual concert in the church of St Kilian, Heilbronn to remember the destruction of Heilbronn on 4 December 1944. The Sgambati is in the choir's tradition having been sung by them in 1956 and 1959 conducted by Dr Ernst Mueller. The present recording was made after the success of their revival of the work in 1988.

This is commendable revival. A requiem in which the Fauré-like reticence of plainchant meets the drama of apocalyptic visions.

Rob Barnett

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