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Verdi: Requiem Mass / Cherubini: Requiem in C minor

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, February 15, 2005
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Product Details

  • Performer: Agnes Baltsa, Renata Scotto, Veriano Luchetti, Ambrosian Chorus
  • Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra of London
  • Conductor: Riccardo Muti
  • Composer: Luigi Cherubini, Giuseppe Verdi
  • Audio CD (February 15, 2005)
  • SPARS Code: ADD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: EMI Classics
  • ASIN: B0002Z83M0
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,730 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Listeners may be familiar with Riccardo Muti's 1987 La Scala recording of the Verdi Requiem featuring Studer, Zajic, Pavarotti, and Ramey (a wonderful album but a bit pricey). This earlier recording (June 1979) with the British is, fortunately or unfortunately, quite a different rendition.

Muti's 1987 recording featured brilliant but well-disciplined singing. In this 1979 album, however, the discipline seems to have been left outside the recording studio.

Words are grossly mispronounced, soloists are often a bit flat, and some of the vocalizing is uncomfortably forced. There is also a lot of use of ritards that sometimes sound overdone.

But what made up for these drawbacks - and why I really LOVE this CD! - was the no-holds-barred theatricality. If you want a performance that is every bit as operatic as Verdi never wanted it to be, if you want every human emotion front and center, if you want a reading that couldn't care less about all those vocal niceties that music teachers charge so much to teach - well, here it is!

The CD fools you at first. The opening Requiem chorus is barely audible, as is often the case. But suddenly you get punched in the face with the angriest, most violent "Te decet" basses you've ever heard. Forget the usual hymn-like treatment this passage normally gets. These hymnists are carrying sledgehammers.

When the four soloists enter for the Kyrie, they leave no doubt that this really is going to be Verdi's "greatest opera." I have never, ever heard the Kyrie opening with such prima donna bombast.

Veriano Luchetti had recorded the Verdi Requiem just two years earlier with Georg Solti and Leontyne Price. He was theatrical then, and still is.
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Format: Audio CD
Recorded in the grand and atmospheric acoustic of the now demolished Kingsway Hall, this is a really thrilling and dramatic Verdi Requiem, more in the Solti mode rather than the reverential Giulini style and it certainly fields a better team of soloists than what is for me that inexplicably over-praised recording.

I have hardly listened to this since I first bought it on its issue over thirty years ago yet I find my reactions have hardly altered, except for an increased tolerance for Scotto's mannerisms.

Verdi was not a conventionally religious man, if religious at all, and he stresses the human drama of the liturgical text. The more versions of the Verdi Requiem I hear and own - and it must be thirty now - the more I side with Muti's approach here, which is urgent, propulsive and demonstrative in Grand Opera style. It is not especially fast or slow at around 86 minutes but it gives an impression of speed. Muti was not yet forty; this is the first of three recordings of this work and while the second La Scala account has an equally starry quartet of soloists, this one remains his best, despite one major caveat.

Its advantages are many: the sound, I have already mentioned; the Ambrosian Chorus in its heyday, the Philharmonia Orchestra reliably superb, the rock-solid, saturnine bass of Yevgeny Nesterenko in his absolute prime - how another reviewer can describe him has characterless escapes me - the splendid Italianate tenor of Luchetti in the first of his two excellent studio recordings of this work; the tangy, plaintive mezzo-soprano of Agnes Baltsa; these are all distinct bonuses that combine to create one of the most immediate and compelling recordings of this oft-recorded masterpiece that I know.

For some, the stumbling-block is Renata Scotto's wobble.
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Format: Audio CD
On its first CD release The Gramophone's reviewer ranked Muti's first Verdi Requiem, from 1979, as among the top ten ever recorded. but in the LP era some critics found this performance so compelling that it was ranked No. 1 on many lists. In retrospect one may ask: Where did such exaggerated praise come from? Because to my ears Muti is blunt, coarse and even assualtive in his approach.

First among its virutes, the professional Philharmonia chorus sounds superb, singing with wonderful unity and musicality (though not with Verdian fervor). All of the soloists are exemplary except for the aging Scotto--she was the greatest artist among them but not the spinto-dramatic soprano required here, or the alternative lyric soprano one sometimes hears (e.g., Schwarzkopf).

More generlaly, this was a hot shot's Requiem, eschewing spirituality for raw power and impact. Muti's Dies Irae and Sanctus were exhiliratingly fast. Memories of the fiery Toscanini were recalled. Now the Dies Irae seems like a pardoy as it races past. To tell the truth, the one thing that riveted my attention, despsite the wobble in her voice, was Scotto's tragic, almost wild solo singing. Muti's second try in the Nineties delivered a tamer reading, but this one can stand as a tribute to his early promise as Toscanini's all-too-brief successor.
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