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