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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem (1874)
Júlia Várady (soprano), Alexandrina Milcheva (mezzo-soprano), Alberto Cupido (tenor), Nicola Ghiuselev (bass), ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Leif Segerstam
rec. live 3 October 1980, Stiftskirche, Herzogenburg, Austria. DDD
ORFEO C210232 [47:49 + 39:31]

This is the first commercial release on CD of this Austrian Radio archive recording, issued to mark Júlia Várady’s 80th birthday – and she is the undoubted star of the show.

She heads a fine team of soloists supported by an excellent choir with especially good basses, but their efforts are to some degree compromised by the recorded sound here, which is quite muddy, mushy and reverberant, as if the engineers did not have time to find ways of combatting the acoustic of the monastery venue. Paradoxically, whatever microphone placement was used permits the chorus to sound more forward and distinct than the soloists and orchestra; the impact of the timpani and trumpet in the “Dies Irae” in particular is dulled. The performance is live with only the occasional, distant cough audible.

Várady soars radiantly throughout, her shimmering soprano cutting through that boomy acoustic and she is well paired with Alexandrina Milcheva’s forthright mezzo with its secure top notes, firm middle and strong lower register. Alberto Cupido does not really have a Verdi tenor; his voice has a rather thin, sweet sound but for the most part it still carries. He doesn’t introduce much nuance or variety into his “Ingemisco” but just sings through it; he does better in the “Hostias” where he employs a more interesting mezza-voce. Ghiuselev was long among the best basses and generally sings well enough but like Cupido tends to sing straight through without much expression and he goes both sharp and wobbly at certain points in the “Confutatis”.

Segerstam follows Reiner in choosing slow tempi for the introduction but it doesn’t drag, even though the first entry of the soloists seems delayed. That sets the tone for his approach throughout which is careful, detailed and grand in manner. For me, the crucial movement in any recording of the Requiem is the central “Offertoire” and it is delivered here in fine, stately fashion. Várady’s entry on “Sed” is exquisite; furthermore, despite the relatively steady speed he adopts, Segerstam injects sufficient swing into proceedings at “Quam olim Abrahae” to ensure momentum, where some recordings drag. I have already remarked that Cupido ups his game expressively for the “Hostias” so it is a pity he is that not quite steady and ducks the trill in “ad vitam”. Ghiuselev is suitably sonorous and hieratic. While Segerstam continues, for the most part, to get away with slower tempi, the “Sanctus” needs more life and lift than he gives it. The “Lux eterna”, however, is imposing, the three lower-voiced soloists paving the way for Várady’s vibrant, terror-filled “Libera me”, the supplicatory mood enhanced by the well-drilled choir’s beautifully warm, impeccably tuned singing. Her floated high notes and soft singing are a dream; so few soprano soloists in this work can carry them off as successfully as she does here. The final pianissimo B-flat “Requiem” of her Andante solo is perfectly poised and her concluding top C in the finale splendidly secure.

This performance of the Requiem is by no means perfect vocally or sonically but it exercises a certain fascination over the listener by virtue of Segerstam’s unusually novel, sensitive and thoughtful direction and the excellence of Várady’s contribution.

Ralph Moore

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