Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) was widely admired for the integrity and musicality of his conducting. Listeners could often find also a deep spirituality in his music-making - and in saying that I don’t automatically equate spirituality and religious sentiment. Though towards the end of his career his approach was sometimes a bit too contemplative, for most of his life he was able to bring out the dramatic side of pieces, as was evidenced by his distinguished operatic career.
This performance of the Mozart Requiem, set down when he was in his mid-sixties, displays many of Giulini’s virtues. It should be said at once that this is “big” Mozart, employing a large choir and, presumably, an orchestra in scale. So those who prefer their Mozart light and lithe and given by period forces may well look elsewhere. To do so, however, might be a mistake as this reading has much to teach us.
Right from the first choral entry it’s clear this is going to be a large-scale performance. The chorus is weighty, though not in an oppressive sense, and the singers project the music strongly. Giulini moulds the lines firmly and with purpose. Throughout the work, in fact, we find the Norbert Balatsch-trained Philharmonia Chorus on impressive form and though the sound is often full and always firm the lighter passages are delivered with finesse. So, for example, in the ‘Confutatis’ the opening phrases are declaimed very dramatically by the men but when the ladies respond with ‘voca me’ the singing is gentle and intercessionary in tone; the use of contrast is impressive and highly appropriate. The following movement, ‘Lacrymosa’, is prayerfully shaped by Giulini and the choir makes all the dynamic contrasts for him and sings through the line - except where rests are specified, of course. The start of the Sanctus is very impressive: Giulini and his singers - and the orchestra too - bring out all the grandeur in the music.
Giulini has the services of a fine solo team. Helen Donath caps the quartet with silvery tone while Christa Ludwig is as poised and as firm of tone as one would expect from this great artist. I’ve not always been a fan of Robert Tear, finding a lot of his work compromised by excessive vibrato and something of a beat in the voice. I’m happy to say that none of these faults are in evidence here and his singing is pleasing and wholly reliable. Robert Lloyd’s rich, firm bass anchors the quartet impressively and he’s imposing at ‘Tuba mirum’. The solo team are well integrated in the ‘Recordare’, which Giulini balances and paces beautifully, and they also blend very well in a lyrical account of the ‘Benedictus’.
In summary, unless you’re allergic to the “traditional” way with Mozart there’s a great deal to admire here. And Giulini is a wise and perceptive Mozartian; his dignified approach is very satisfying and he doesn’t underplay the dramatic side of the music either. My own favourite recordings of this work remain the John Eliot Gardiner reading (Philips), on period instruments and Britten’s modern instrument account (BBC Legends) but I’m very glad indeed to have this Giulini version.
As a fill-up, EMI give us Barbara Hendricks’ account of Exsultate, Jubilate. Miss Hendricks sings the piece well. I wish EMI had tracked the four separate sections of the work individually - and, for that matter separated the ‘Lux aeterna’ section at the end of the Requiem (it begins at 3:30 into track 12, by the way). Hendricks is expressive in the recitative section, ‘Fulget anima dies’ (track 13, 4:58) and then spins some excellent long lines in the extended hymn, ‘Tu virginem corona’ (5:54). She is suitably agile in the famous ‘Alleluia’ (13:11). Marriner and his players provide alert accompaniment.
This is a good, reliable Mozart collection and is well worth investigation by collectors who may have missed these recordings first time round.