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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem
, Op. 48 (1900 version)* [38:12]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Quattro pezzi sacri
(1889-1897) [39:07]
Dame Janet Baker (soprano)/*Gérard Souzay (baritone)
Philharmonia Chorus/Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo-Maria Giulini
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 30 April 1962. ADD
BBC LEGENDS BBCL42212 [78:43]



I’m sure that one of the reasons why the BBC Legends series has been so successful is that it has been artist-focused. In line with that policy this release is badged, very understandably, with the name of Carlo-Maria Giulini. However, the booklet note by Mike Ashman discusses not just the great Italian maestro but also Wilhelm Pitz, doyen of post-war chorus-masters and the man who was the inspiration behind the Philharmonia Chorus in its early days. I think that’s entirely proper since the stamp of both men is clearly on these performances.
 
Giulini recorded both of these work commercially. His recording of the Verdi, made with these self-same forces, was set down only a few months after this concert, in December 1962. Now available in EMI’s ‘Great Recordings of the Century’ series, coupled with the conductor’s famous account of the Verdi Requiem, it’s the version through which I came to know these pieces many years ago. That said, I see that my colleague, Christopher Howell, greeted the reissue with some reservations (see review). There’s a 1986 recording by Giulini, with the Philharmonia, of the Fauré (DG  4745622) but I haven’t heard that. In any event, these two live performances, from the prime of Giulini’s relationship with the Philharmonia, present an enticing prospect.
 
The Fauré is given in the version for full orchestra, as was the norm in the early 1960s. Since then we have become much more accustomed to hearing the work in its more intimate orchestral guise and I prefer that approach. However, there’s most certainly a place for the more fully-scored version.
 
I wasn’t surprised to find that Giulini’s is a pretty traditional view of the work, in which slow or slowish tempi predominate. It’s also a deeply-felt, intense vision of the score. So, right at the start, the choir is very hushed although Giulini brings out the differences in dynamics between the orchestra - often louder, by design - and the singers. The choir’s quiet singing is impressive throughout the whole disc; in fact their tone is often veiled at quiet moments - quite deliberately, I’m sure. That said, perhaps in part this is due to the recording, which does rather show its age and which has a tendency to overload in climaxes, especially in the Verdi. I liked Giulini’s handling of the Offertoire movement. Souzay is in good voice and the choir sings well. When, after the baritone solo, the choir returns with “O Domine, Jesu Christe”, the bass line catches the ear nicely, though without any unnatural exaggeration. The concluding “Amen” is gently radiant.
 
There is no mistake in the header to this review. Dame Janet is indeed listed as a soprano. Whether the billing is wholly accurate matters not. The solo in this work lies comfortably within her range – it goes up to F natural – and I suspect that if it were not for the focus these days on chamber-style performances of the work, which often implies the use of pure, light sopranos, we might hear more mezzos essay the part. Dame Janet sings with all the intelligence, lovely tone and discernment that one would expect from her and she proves to be an excellent protagonist of this beautiful solo. I don’t know how often she sang the role in concert but I’m not aware of any other recorded performances by her so this is a not insignificant addition to her discography, and a welcome one.
 
The Agnus Dei is well shaped with a good tenor line at the start. Later, from “Lux aeterna” onwards, Giulini builds the climax carefully and with good control. In the Libera me Souzay once again produces a pleasing and French tone but I do wonder if he does a bit too much with the words. On another BBC Legends disc, in a fine performance, conducted by Nadia Boulanger (BBCL 4026 2), John Carol Case is the soloist and he employs a simpler style of delivery, which I rather prefer though others may find it a bit plain and understated.  The serene In Paradisum is given a gentle, radiant performance by Giulini and his choir.
 
It’s interesting to compare this Giulini reading with that Boulanger account, which similarly uses the full orchestral score. The total timings aren’t vastly different – Boulanger takes 38:39 – nor do the timings for the individual movements differ radically. However, I have a greater sense of forward movement from Boulanger at several times in the work. Also, her reading, which dates from 1968, is captured in very much better sound. This Giulini traversal isn’t a reading that will appeal to anyone who insists on having their Fauré Requiem lean and intimate. However, it’s typical of Giulini in its musical sensitivity, sincerity and good taste and I’m very glad to have it.
 
As I’ve already noted, Giulini’s interpretation of the Verdi already exists in a roughly contemporaneous recording that’s been a staple of the catalogue for over four decades now. Nonetheless, it’s good to have a live version also. It’s interesting to compare Giulini’s timings as between the live and the studio versions.

 

 
EMI
BBC Legends
Ave Maria   
5:49
5:46
Stabat Mater 
13:20 
12:16
Laudi alla Vergine Maria 
5:45
5:25
Te Deum     
15:43
14:55
 
The BBC Legends tracks include a few seconds of pauses between movements and in the case of the Te Deum the timing shown above excludes nearly one minute of applause at the end. It’s notable that in the larger pieces Giulini was a bit more expansive in the studio.
 
I have one little grumble about this BBC Legends production, namely that at the very start of the Ave Maria and again before the Te Deum a note is discreetly given to the choir on the organ. I appreciate that this is a record of what happened at the concert but surely this could have been edited out as it is bound to be distracting in repeated listening.
 
Giulini moulds the Ave Maria lovingly and with devotion. This unaccompanied piece bristles with difficulties for the choir, stemming from Verdi’s extremely demanding and chromatic harmonic language. I don’t have perfect pitch but it sounds to me as if Pitz had trained his singers to such a degree that they cope well with Verdi’s demands. The opening pages of the Stabat Mater aren’t easy to bring off either, requiring great concentration from the choir, but this performance is successful. Having said that, the choral singing heard on this disc isn’t absolutely flawless but that, I think reflects the huge advances in the standards of choral singing over the last forty years or so. In 1962 this choral singing would have been considered first rate, and rightly so, but today’s choirs have set the bar even higher. But the 1962 Philharmonia Chorus puts up a pretty decent show. They are very incisive at “Fac, ut portem Christi mortem” and they exhibit a tremendous dynamic range at “Fac ut animae donetur Paradisi gloria” though their climax at the end of this passage is somewhat compromised by the recording itself.
 
The ladies sing the third piece, the only one that’s in Italian rather than Latin, and they do it well. The best music – the Te Deum – brings out the best performance. At the start the men are quite distant, which makes the brilliant outburst on “Sanctus” all the more thrilling, though once again the recording can’t quite cope. “Patrem immensae majestatis” is very exciting, as it should be, and the singing – and playing – is incisive at “Tu, rex gloriae.” What I’ve always thought of as Verdi’s ‘Wall of Sound’ (long before Phil Spector!) at “Salvum fac populum tuum” is an impressive moment, while at the other end of the dynamic spectrum Giulini sustains the intensity during the quiet march at “Dignare Domine”. Dame Janet’s short solo appearance, a cameo she repeated on the commercial recording, is part of a well-managed conclusion.
 
Undoubtedly Giulini’s vision of these pieces is best revealed in his EMI commercial recording, not least because the EMI sound is much better. However, this live version is a valuable supplement to that issue.
 
As I’ve indicated, the quality of sound is limited. There’s an overall degree of opacity and the climaxes certainly overload. However, one must remember that these recordings are forty-five years old and all things considered the performances are reported pretty well. The interpretations of both works are typical of Giulini; in other words, committed, not at all showy, devoted yet suitably dynamic at the more dramatic moments. Admirers of this great conductor, of whom I’m certainly one, will know what to expect. Unfortunately documentation continues to be an Achilles heel of this series. Mike Ashman’s note, which is reproduced in English, French and German, is a good one. However, as usual, no texts or translations are provided. This is an especially grave omission in the case of the Verdi since those texts will be unfamiliar to many. Previously the booklets for BBC Legends issues have included a couple of photos of the featured artist but even these are absent here. No doubt this is for reasons of economy but this is one of the most important historical series on the market and I think Medici Arts can and should provide better documentation than this. 
 
Notwithstanding that caveat, this is another valuable BBC Legends release and a welcome addition to the Giulini discography.
 
John Quinn
 



 


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