Notes and Editorial Reviews
Quattro pezzi sacri
Carlo Maria Giulini, cond; Philharmonia O & Ch;
New Philharmonia O & Ch;
Ilva Ligabue (sop);
Grace Bumbry (mez);
Sándor Kónya (ten);
EMI 10205 (DVD: 129:47) Live: London 4/26/64;
This is an extraordinary, exciting, and valuable document. The audio component of this 1964 Verdi Requiem has previously appeared on CD in IMG Artists? BBC ?Legends? series as BBCL 4144-2. That release was reviewed by me in the Orchestral Collections section of
28: 2 (November/December 2004) along with a number of other compact discs issued to celebrate Carlo Maria Giulini?s 90th birthday. It was also included by me on my 2004 Want List in that issue. Now, as Alan Blyth points out in his essay for this DVD?an essay to be found in the pdf contained on the disc and requiring a CD-ROM drive to access; the printed leaflet offers little more than a track listing and acknowledgements?the present video release serves as fitting tribute and memorial following the conductor?s death at 91 in June 2005. Let me quote from my earlier review of the CD, which I discussed first among the other Giulini items I reviewed in 28:2: ?Were I to use up all my superlatives here, it wouldn?t leave me any for what follows below, so suffice to say that this is one of the very greatest Verdi Requiems I?ve ever heard, a startlingly vivid performance of consistently intense immediacy in its spiritual as well as overtly dramatic moments, during which, as it proceeds, one doesn?t know whom to admire more?conductor, orchestra, soloists, or chorus?so thoroughly attuned are they all to each other and to Verdi?s music. That the sound is monaural matters not one bit.?
And I guarantee you that you won?t be thinking about the sound at all while watching the DVD, so immediately engrossing is this riveting, inspired performance from its opening measures. It has everything you could want: sweep, grandeur, immediacy, intimacy, you name it. To have this on film is a gift, not just so that we can see Giulini?who conducts from memory?so meaningfully evoke the sense of the music through his physical bearing and his facial expressions (whether in such big moments as the ?Dies irae? or the quieter moments of the ?Sanctus,? or as he concentrates his attention upon the soloists in the
passage for mezzo, tenor, and bass near the end of the ?Lux aeterna?); but also for the sense of occasion, the sense of virtually being there, that watching this DVD provides. The camerawork is basic and direct, entirely appropriate to the occasion and the music, and for the most part always showing us just what we want to see, whether focusing on the conductor, the soloists, the chorus, or the full expanse of the Royal Festival Hall stage.
I wish I could say the same for the camerawork in the
Quattro pezzi sacri
, a performance filmed four years later at Fairfield Hall in Croyden. In this instance, the frequent camera changes are so out of synch with the pulse and mood of the music that I found it nearly impossible to pay attention to what Verdi actually wrote. To make matters worse, the too-frequent, lingering shots of Giulini, and the equally frequent, artsy close-ups of the conductor?s hands, not only distracted from the music but had me wondering whether the camera direction was influenced by the famous old publicity photos of Leopold Stokowski (who was still very much alive at the time). Then, at the end, just prior to the very brief soprano solo near the close of the ?Te Deum,? Giulini?s hands give way to an image of what I believe is the Albrecht Dürer drawing of an apostle?s hands in prayer?just the thing to distract the viewer from the music altogether, in the final moments of the piece! Granted, the first three
are so quiet and low key?with the orchestra used either sparingly or not at all?that these would pose a problem for any film director; but surely one doesn?t want what one gets here, which is to say a visual component so generally misguided that the music doesn?t stand a chance. And surely Giulini himself could never have condoned the ?conductor-worship? that so much of the camerawork suggests. But this is, after all, the ?filler,? and beyond that, my only complaint about this DVD is that there?s just a single track for the ?Dies irae? of the Requiem, as opposed to the individual tracks for each of its sections that tend these days to be the norm.
Of course, I could mention numerous other specific things that kept me watching the Requiem with such unflagging interest?the opportunity actually to see as well as hear how effortless the soloists? singing is; the size of the enormous bass drum in the ?Dies irae?; how Raffaele Arié so often keeps his score folded under one arm, thereby offering increased immediacy of contact with the audience; the ever-attentive demeanor of the choristers; the wooden instrument played by the Philharmonia?s principal flutist; an audience member, sitting within camera-range of the podium, following a score of the piece (fortunately, he doesn?t appear too often; certainly, I wouldn?t have wanted him sitting near me!). But enough. In sum, this is a document to own and cherish: as stated above, a real gift.
Works on This Recording
Requiem Mass by Giuseppe Verdi
Sándor Kónya (Tenor),
Grace Bumbry (Mezzo Soprano),
Raffaele Arié (Bass),
Ilva Ligabue (Soprano)
Written: 1874; Italy
Date of Recording: 4/1964
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London, England
Quattro pezzi sacri by Giuseppe Verdi
New Philharmonia Orchestra,
New Philharmonia Chorus
Written: pub 1898
Date of Recording: 3/1968
Venue: Fairfield Hall, Corydon
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