This BBC recording comes from a concert recorded
live at the Royal Festival Hall in 1983, during Jesús López-Cobos’
tenure as Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic
Orchestra. It is by no means negligible as an account, but there
are literally scores of recordings of this master-work and many
are more recommendable than this despite its merits.
There is no doubting the energy, commitment and professionalism of the London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra; both are superb. López-Cobos has never been the most innovative or adventurous of conductors and he directs a competent and unexceptional performance here which belongs in the reverential, devotional camp; turning to really inspirational conductors like Bernstein or Toscanini will reveal what is missing if you prefer a more urgent, Dante-esque scenario. This performance is around five minutes longer than more dramatic accounts, although there is plenty of weight in the supplicatory sections and the pace lifts nicely in the “Quam olim Abrahae” – always a key moment for me.
Interest for most listeners will centre upon the team of soloists
here assembled. While admiring so much of what Margaret Price
does I cannot help feeling that hers is not an ideal Verdi voice:
too slim and fluty to fill out those soaring lines amply and somewhat
taxed by the expose B flats which she gamely nails rather than
floats. Even so she is one of a minority of sopranos who succeed
in sounding genuinely terrified in the “Libera me”. She is none
too steady in the “Lacrimosa”.
The mezzo, Livia Budai, is plain ordinary if compared with great
exponents of the rôle like Christa Ludwig or Fiorenza Cossotto;
she is heavy on the vibrato and rather lumpen in expression, but
blends surprisingly well with Price in their joint numbers. For
some the sticking point will be a glaring mistake at the beginning
of the “Quid sum miser”, when she comes in a bar early and has
to mark time by holding on to “sum”. For repeated listening, this
could be very irksome.
Giacomini is blessed with a great voice and lets us know it: his is a stentorian attack on the part - both he and Lloyd pin back our ears in their entries in the “Kyrie” - but he rarely attempt any mezza-voce or nuance in the manner of Di Stefano or Domingo. He scoops a bit and goes flat in the “Hostias” but is a real Italian tenor of the kind all too rare today.
I have a weakness for Robert Lloyd’s sonorous, slightly nasal bass; he brings great solidity, gravitas and dignity to his utterances even if he is no Pinza or Siepi.
As a live recording in the Festival Hall, this comes off well, despite the outburst of hacking between the end of the “Requiem aeternam” and “Lux eterna” which is disconcerting; the conductor cuts the coughers short by launching quickly into the last movement before they can get into their stride, but it’s unfortunate.
Given the plethora of excellent recordings available, I cannot claim that this one is the answer to anyone’s prayers. It has merits and will appeal to followers of the singers featured but Price’s error, the spread onto two discs, the live sound and some indifferent singing might be reasons enough to look for more celebrated studio performances such as those by Karajan, Solti, Reiner or Serafin. If it’s a live performance you want, Bernstein or Toscanini offer more thrills.
1. Requiem Aeternam [9:48]
2-10. Dies Irae [35:22]
1-2. Offertorium [9:25]
3. Sanctus [2:36]
4. Agnus Dei [5:09]
5. Lux Aeterna [6:03]
6-9. Libera Me [14:12]