Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Requiem [84:27]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia [7:03]
La Scala di Seta [6:29]
Guillaume Tell [11:55]
La Gazza Ladra [10:33]
L’Italiana in Algeri [7:53]
La Cenerentola [7:37]
Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano); Nina Isakova (mezzo); Vladimir Ivanovsky (tenor); Ivan Petrov (bass); State Academy Chorus
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra (requiem) Orchestre National de l’ORTF (overtures)/Igor Markevitch
rec. Paris 1957 (overtures) live, Moscow, 1960 (requiem)
no text or translation included
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5068 [65:51 + 70:18]
It is clear from the String Quartet and three of the Four Sacred Pieces that Verdi was perfectly capable of producing a work which avoided more obviously theatrical dramatic effects. He was however driven in most of his music by drama and by words. The words of the Latin Requiem Mass may lack an obvious plot but the pictures and scenes that they evoke could hardly fail to result in a work that is so often referred to as his best opera. The truth of that view has seldom been made so clear as when listening to this extraordinary recording. David Patmore’s notes explain that due to its religious character the Requiem was by no means in the normal repertoire in Russia in 1960. I assume however that all of those involved were thoroughly conversant with the composer’s operatic style. They certainly proceeded to perform it in a wholly unashamed untrammelled way. There is a real feeling that they are discovering a great masterpiece for themselves and loving every minute of it. It starts very slowly, but later sections, especially in the Dies Irae, are pushed to the limit. The overall approach is not unlike that of Toscanini in its sense of outright commitment but it differs greatly in detail.
It is obvious that the soloists are not Italian, but there are special virtues in Ivan Petrov’s firm bass and Vishnevskaya’s majestic if not always firm soprano. The others are at least adequate on the whole. The chorus and orchestra are much more than that. They are simply superb, throwing themselves into the work with real energy and commitment. The occasional slips that occur can be easily forgiven in such a context. I understand that the same team made a later studio recording but I have not heard it. The recording quality is acceptable for its period, indeed better than is the norm with Russian recordings of that time.
As the performance runs to just over 80 minutes a second disc is required. This might have been a disincentive to purchase of the set but fortunately ICA had the imaginative idea of filling it with six Rossini Overtures in studio recordings made in Paris in 1957. Above all these are performances of real character. This is due partly to Markevitch’s control and the simple good humour that he imparts, but just as much to the delightfully individual sounds of the orchestra’s woodwind and brass. The trombones and horns in particular have a bite that avoids pomposity and lends excitement, while the woodwind principals play with real character. On the whole discs with a series of Overtures do not make for good continuous listening but I found that once started on the first I was impelled to carry on to the end.
Overall this set was a real discovery for me. Even if you normally avoid recordings of this period because of their perceived antiquated sound this is worth hearing for its sheer panache. The cover describes the performance of the Requiem as “electrifying” and I can do little better than echo that view, adding only that the Overtures are worthy companions.  

John Sheppard

This set was a real discovery for me.