Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Inno delle nazioni (Hymn of the Nations) dramatic cantata (1862) [12:46]
Libera me, Domine (from Mass for Rossini) (1869) [12:58]
Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Pieces) (1888-97) (i. Ave Maria (1888) [5:40]; ii. Stabat Mater (1896) [13:24]; iii. Laudi alla Vergine Maria (1893) [6:08]; iv. Te Deum (1897) [16:01])
La vergine degli ageli (May the Virgin of the Angels) from opera La forza del destino (The Force of Destiny) (1861/2) [3:30]
Barbara Frittoli (soprano), Francesco Meli (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Regio, Torino/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. 15-17 July 2010, Main stage, Teatro Regio, Torino, Italy. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10659 [70:35]

These choral works by Verdi are overshadowed by his great Requiem Mass and are consequently often overlooked. Maestro Noseda has been doing a first-class job in Manchester from 2002 as principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Sadly his final appearance as their chief conductor was on 16 April 2011 in a concert performance of Verdiís Otello at the Bridgewater Hall. Noseda will become conductor laureate of the BBC Philharmonic.

For these choral scores Noseda has turned to all-Italian forces. The soloists are renowned Milanese soprano Barbara Frittoli and Genoa-born tenor Francesco Meli. The feature work is the Four Sacred Pieces - a score with three or four fine alternative versions in the catalogue but it certainly hasnít been recorded anywhere near as often as its quality deserves.

Soon after working on The Force of Destiny in 1862 Verdi composed the dramatic cantata the Hymn of the Nations. It was the intended as the Italian entry for the International Exhibition in London in 1862. The score calls for tenor soloist, referred to as ĎThe Bardí in the text, sung by Francesco Meli, a four-part mixed chorus and orchestra. It is a setting of words by Arrigo Boito, the librettist especially noted for Otello and Falstaff. It did not actually feature at the International Exhibition but when performed (with a soprano soloist) in London it was to considerable acclaim. This celebratory work sung with tremendous fervour includes references to France and Italy. In deference to Queen Victoria there is a verse of ĎGod Save the Queení at the conclusion.

To mark Rossiniís death in Paris in 1868 Verdi suggested that the composers of Italy should unite in honour of Rossini. A scheme was hatched that each composer would collaborate gratis and contribute part of a Messa per Rossini to be performed once only at Bologna on the first anniversary of Rossiniís death. Initial performance preparations were put in place. However, the collaborative project experienced several difficulties and never came to fruition. Verdiís contribution was the closing section the Libera me, Domine cast for soprano solo, four-part mixed chorus and orchestra. Verdi later reused the Libera me Domine for his great Requiem Mass (Manzoni Requiem) with a few alterations necessary from the original to ensure a good fit.

Verdiís Four Sacred Pieces were actually premiŤred as three Sacred Pieces in 1898 in Paris. Verdi dropped the Ave Maria from the performance. The Ave Maria was performed as part of the set later that year in Vienna. Its four panels can be summarised as follows:-

i. Ave Maria on an Ďenigmatic scaleí harmonised for four-part mixed chorus a cappella, in Latin
ii. Stabat Mater for four-part mixed chorus and orchestra, in Latin.
iii. Laudi alla Vergine Maria (text taken from Canto XXXIII in Paradiso of Danteís Divine Comedy) for four-part womenís chorus a cappella, in Italian.
iv. Te Deum for double mixed chorus and orchestra, in Latin.

I have several versions of the Four Sacred Pieces including accounts from the Berlin Philharmonic and the Ernst Senff Chamber Choir/Giulini on Sony, Orchestre Rťvolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner on Philips and the Berlin Philharmonic and the Swedish Radio Choir and Stockholm Chamber Choir/Muti on EMI. Most outstanding of all is the version from Carlo Maria Giulini with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus on EMI Classics. Produced by Walter Legge, this was recorded in 1962 at Londonís Kingsway Hall. My current copy is the wonderful sounding 2010 reissue on the EMI Classics, Masters series titled Great Classical Recordings. The coupling is Giuliniís justly famous 1963-64 Kingsway Hall account of the Requiem on EMI Classics 6 31821 2.

The Ave Maria for unaccompanied mixed chorus is a haunting score. Nosedaís Teatro Regio Chorus is attractively toned and sing well. Giulini takes the tempo a little slower than Noseda. I immediately noticed the superior sound from the refined and highly unified Philharmonia Chorus. Giuliniís womenís choir sound remarkably angelic with the menís choir providing a sturdy foundation.

The substantial Stabat Mater is highly dramatic with Nosedaís Turin forces contributing a sparkling and buoyant performance. Giuliniís Philharmonia chorus is noticeably more powerful with singing of considerable weight together with resounding orchestral accompaniment. Giuliniís climaxes remain quite awe-inspiring - spine-tingling stuff. The glowing string sound from the Philharmonia also takes the ear. Remarkable too is a glorious hushed quality to the Amen.

Probably the most immediately appealing of the set is the lightly textured and captivating Laudi alla Vergine Maria for unaccompanied womenís chorus. Nosedaís Turin choir offers attractive singing and is stirring on occasions. Giuliniís choir with their impeccable unity sounded angelic. Here Giulini takes a slightly quicker pace than Noseda.

For mixed chorus and orchestra the Te Deum is the lengthiest piece and the most complex of the set. It is generally acknowledged as containing the finest writing - best appreciated after several plays. The piece also includes the setís only part for solo voice. Nosedaís Turin choral forces are in excellent voice sounding particularly reverential. They take great care over the meaning of the text. The Turin brass sound thrilling and I was struck by the gleaming timbre of the strings. For Noseda soprano Barbara Frittoli is suitably pious in her small solo part. A little quicker than Noseda, Giuliniís stunning interpretation feels weightier and has additional vitality with breathtaking climaxes. The orchestral accompaniment from the Philharmonia shines through - especially the brass - to grand effect. Janet Baker can be heard singing serenely towards the conclusion.

The final score on the Chandos release is Mary the Virgin of the Angels, the concluding chorus with Leonora from act II of the opera The Force of Destiny (1861/2). Verdiís librettist for the opera was Francesco Maria Piave.

Renowned soprano Barbara Frittoli has pleaisng clarity of diction combined with a most glorious tone. The pronounced wobble on her sustained notes may prove a distraction for some. In the Libera me Domine from the Mass for Rossini Frittoli remembers appropriately that she is not singing in a Verdi opera and is suitably reverential. I was highly impressed with Francesco Meli, a clear-toned tenor with a top register that reminded me a little of Pavarotti. Meliís voice is sufficiently powerful to soar over the chorus in the Hymn of the Nations.

The Chorus of Teatro Regio of Torino is in impeccable form: heartfelt, reverential and decisive. I found them especially rousing in the Hymn of the Nations and tenderly devout in the Stabat Mater and Laudi alla Vergine Maria. With notable unanimity and potency the Teatro Regio Orchestra respond with conviction to Maestro Nosedaís thoughtful promptings.

The Chandos presentation is to the high standard that we have all come to expect. I was impressed by the quality of the booklet notes which included a fine essay and full texts with English translation. The sound quality is reasonably clear, however, I was a touch uncomfortable with the brightness of some of the forte passages. This is a compelling disc and reminds us again that every Noseda disc is worthy of investigation.

Michael Cookson

A most compelling disc.