Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jesús López-Cobos, cond; Margaret Price (sop); Livia Budai (mez); Giuseppe Giacomini (ten); Robert Lloyd (bs); London PO and Ch
LPO 0048 (2 CDs: 82:35) Live: London 4/24/1983
34:3 I reviewed a recent recording of the Requiem by Valentin Radu and the Ama Deus Ensemble, at which point this set came across my desk. I thereupon decided that it was time to listen again to major recordings I had heard before, plus several
other recent entries into the field, to re-evaluate my preferences. For better or worse, I found very little to change. My first two choices remain Toscanini’s legendary 1951 NBC Symphony broadcast with Herva Nelli, Fedora Barbieri, Giuseppe di Stefano, Cesare Siepi, and the Robert Shaw Chorale (see the reviews by Mortimer H. Frank in 32:4 and 34:3), and Solti’s first recording (originally on Decca, now reissued in the “Originals” series) with the Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and Martti Talvela (see Frank again, this time in 30:4). Since Solti learned the Requiem under Toscanini, that pairing is unsurprising, and bespeaks my heretofore strong preference for an operatic rather than devotional approach to this score. Devotees of historical recordings will also want the classic 1939 Tulio Serafin recording on EMI with Maria Caniglia, Ebe Stignani, Beniamino Gigli, and Ezio Pinza.
My opinions of other notable previous recordings (de Sabata, Reiner, Giulini, Bernstein, Karajan, Abbado, Muti, etc.) as occupying a lower tier stand unaltered. For example, I remain unimpressed by the oft-recommended 1964 Giulini performance on EMI, as I have never cared for Giulini’s soft-grained conducting and cannot abide Nicolai Gedda’s voice in Italian (as opposed to French and Russian) repertoire. Several recent ventures—including those by Colin Davis, Riccardo Muti/CSO, Semyon Bychkov, Helmut Rilling, and Antonio Pappano—failed for various reasons (mostly inadequate soloists) to make the grade. (I must firmly dissent from the glowing reviews recently given to the Rilling and Pappano recordings by my colleagues Jerry Dubins and Henry Fogel, respectively in 34:3 and 33:4. The Rilling strikes me as interpretively solid with a high technical polish but not exceptional; the Pappano has poor solo singing, with a shrill soprano in Anja Arteros and tenor Rolando Villazón well advanced into his present vocal troubles, and some of the most over-inflated and unnatural recorded sound I’ve ever heard.) The one extremely surprising addition to my list of top recommendations is the 1993 Teldec recording (just rereleased as a single budget CD on Apex) with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Alessandra Marc, Waltraud Meier, Plácido Domingo, and Ferrucio Furlanetto. While I often admire Barenboim as a pianist, I generally deplore him as a conductor, but here he is on best behavior, taking some cues from Solti since he does not have a performance by Furtwängler to imitate; the Chicago forces are magnificent as usual, and the soloists outstanding both as individuals and a team.
This brings me, finally, to the present issue. Despite a couple of minor caveats, this review may almost drain me dry of superlatives. First of all, it has wonderful recorded sound—an utterly natural concert-hall presence, rich and warm, with excellent stereo spatial separation and nothing pumped up or unduly accentuated. (The bass drum in the
packs all the wallop one could want without any spotlighting by a special microphone.) While the original source is analog, this can and does put many all-digital recordings to shame. Other production values are also high. Tracking is generous, with 10 provided on the first CD and nine on the second. The libretto in Latin and English sensibly has italicized headers throughout, indicating which lines are sung by which soloists or the chorus.
Second, it has the rare instance of a solo quartet that surpasses expectations. One awaits great things from Margaret Price (who died only two days before the writing of these lines) and Robert Lloyd, and both deliver in spades. Price’s contribution is extremely beautiful; she delivers floating purity of line, and her “Libera me” is a high point of the proceedings. I rank Robert Lloyd alongside Kurt Moll as one of the two premier bassos of the last quarter of the 20th century, and his performance here is nothing short of stupendous, possibly the finest since Pinza under Serafin in 1939. He adapts his refulgent voice to shade the expression of every word of the text individually; his “Mors stupebit” conveys harrowing dread instead of declamatory assertiveness, whereas his “Confutatis maledictis” thunders, and his “Oro supplex et acclinis” implores divine pity. The big surprise is tenor Giuseppe Giacomini, a singer normally noted for heavier dramatic tenor roles and verismo repertoire, in which he wields a powerful but somewhat coarse
. Here, his voice is a shade or two lighter and employed with intelligence to excellent effect; he evinces some slight strain on his initial entrance but quickly gets warmed up, with a defective trill in the “Offertorio” (a point where he is scarcely alone) being his only other momentary shortcoming. Only mezzo-soprano Livia Budai, a name previously unfamiliar to me, is a relative weak link; the voice is technically secure and proficient, but has no distinctive vocal or interpretive profile. She is not fully warmed up at the “Liber scriptus” but is settled into place by the “Recordare.”
Third, it features utterly magnificent conducting from Jesús López-Cobos. His contribution is a work of genius; pacing, phrasing, accent, dynamic shading, and balance are stunningly right at every point. Again and again my attention is drawn to instrumental and vocal details I had not noticed before—and not in any idiosyncratic way, but rather in the sense of “This is absolutely the way it ought to go—why hasn’t anyone else done that?” Hear, for instance, the sinuous bassoon lines and adroitly terraced introduction of voices at the “Salva me,” and the marvelous froglike croaking of the accompanying wind instruments in the “Libera me.” How López-Cobos manages to top Toscanini and Solti for me I still don’t quite know, but he does.
Fourth, the chorus is unbelievably thrilling. I don’t believe I have ever before heard any such large vocal ensemble sing with such unanimity of expression, with each of the four voice ranges sounding as a single individual instead of a homogenous group. There is absolute clarity of every contrapuntal line, such as those concluding the “Libera me, Domine.” Even better, it has an absolutely contagious fervor. The “Sanctus,” with its supple flow of the choral vocal line and accompanying trumpet melody line (beautifully delineated), positively dances like an ethereal ballet of the incorporeal heavenly hosts. The final pages are incredibly hushed; thankfully, applause afterward is not included (nor did any intrude upon the final bars), as it would ruin the much needed silence that follows.
Fifth and last, there is the extraordinary conception of the piece itself. I previously stated my strong preference for an operatic approach to this score, but this performance completely upended that with a devotional approach that succeeds beyond all my expectations. While the vocal soloists and chorus create full-fledged characters—an incredible feat in and of itself—those are not operatic personages, but sacred ones: angelic messengers, imploring penitents, and wailing souls of the damned. The drama of final judgment unfolds with startling immediacy and intensity. I keep finding myself drawn back to hearing this over and over due to the sheer intensity of involvement by all concerned.
In short, this performance is stupendous; I simply did not wish for it to end. Had it a better mezzo-soprano, it would have become my Requiem of choice; as it is, it still occupies an exalted niche in my estimations. Most certainly, it is a prime candidate for the 2011 Want List, and has my highest possible recommendation.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Requiem Mass by Giuseppe Verdi
Lívia Budai (Alto),
Margaret Price (Soprano),
Giuseppe Giacomini (Tenor),
Robert Lloyd (Bass)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
London Philharmonic Chorus
Written: 1874; Italy
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